The temporomandibular joints are the two joints connecting the jawbone to the skull. As some of the most used joints in the body, it’s no surprise that they take a bit of a beating as a result of being so highly utilized. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMD, is a complex issue that involves the jaw, face, teeth, head, neck, thoracic spine, and upper quadrant causing pain, popping or clicking sounds, jaw locking, sensitive teeth, or difficulty chewing. When symptoms of TMD are present, it’s important to correct the problem to reduce pain as soon as possible.
What is causing my temporomandibular joint dysfunction?
Causes of TMD vary and can be a result of teeth grinding, malalignment of one’s bite, trauma to the jaw or face, or even poor posture. Believe it or not, slouched sitting can result in forward head posture as a way for the body to counterbalance itself. In doing so, the forward head posture actually places the condyles of the jaw deeper into their sockets, causing pain. This posture also creates altered length-tension relationships of the muscles attached to the jaw, causing imbalanced muscles. The correction of this muscle imbalance is crucial to restoring proper length tension relationships in order to reduce pain, clicking, and the deviation of jaw movement.
When should I seek treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction?
Don’t know if your jaw deviates? Stand in front of the mirror and keep neutral posture with your head neither tilted up nor down. Neutral head on neck posture can be self assessed by creating a shelf of four fingers on one hand under your chin with the pointer finger touching the Adam’s Apple or thyroid cartilage and then see where your chin falls on your hand. If your chin touches the pinky finger (wiggle it up and down to assess), your head is too far forward. Once in neutral head on neck posture, put the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind the two front teeth and open your mouth only as wide as you can keep your tongue in place without letting it come free. Watch the central line of your mouth or teeth and if dysfunctional movement occurs, you can see the jaw or mandible move out of midline for a moment and come back in, much like making a skewed S curve. This is deviation and it is dysfunctional. When you opened your mouth, did you tilt your head back to make it happen? Check again, this too is dysfunctional.
How can physical therapy help with TMD?
For best results, TMD treatment should include a combination of dental and physical therapy intervention. A dentist will examine for evidence of bruxism and mal-alignment and could make recommendations such as a night guard, maxillary splint, or orthodontics. A physical therapist will work with you to provide a thorough biomechanical analysis and treatment program that may include:
• Manual therapy techniques like massage and joint mobilization to gently increase movement and relieve pain symptoms in the tissues and joints.
• Postural training to correct daily behaviors that may be straining muscles, disks, and ligaments of the temporomandibular joint.
• Jaw movement training, including exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the jaw and restore motion without exerting pressure on your TMJ.
Physical therapists can provide the necessary tools to prevent and/or treat temporomandibular joint dysfunction, allowing you to return to your favorite activities pain-free and better than ever! To learn more about how to prevent TMD or to eliminate any current discomfort, book a physical therapy assessment today.
Request an Appointment
“Fantastic and knowledgeable therapist. Not only did she treat my injury, she educated me on ways to address problems with my posture and improve my strength and mobility.”