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Physical Therapy for Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction

Physical Therapy for Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction
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Ever get a painful or uncomfortable clicking in your jaw while chewing? Or stiffness as soon as you wakes up in the morning? If you do, you may have problems with your temporomandibular joint.

The TMJ is located where the mandible (jaw) meets the skull. A thin disc separates the bones and it aids the mouth in opening and closing. When it becomes loose, it can shift more than usual resulting in a clicking or popping sensation. In the worst case scenario, the disc can get stuck causing the mouth to remain locked open.

Another factor in developing problems with temporomandibular joint is Arthritis as the disease can damage the cartilage within the joint. The most common symptoms people with TMJ dysfunction experience are pain and limited movement of the jaw joint and surrounding muscles.

TMJ dysfunction is more prevalent among the younger population and 5 to 12 percent of Americans may suffer from this disorder. It’s important to treat temporomandibular joint dysfunction before symptoms exacerbates because it can interfere with diet and sometimes require surgery to fix. Physical therapy is a great route in potentially correcing many problems that can arise from temporomandibular joint.

Treatment

The physical therapist will start by evaluating the degree of the condition. They may ask you questions about type and duration of muscle, joint, and facial pain, any difficulty with chewing, and any clicking or popping sound present. Manual therapy can be very effective as it helps decrease muscle, joint, and facial pain as well as frequency of spasms.

With this information, they can determine a treatment plan by using a combination of stretching, joint mobilization, soft and deep tissue release, and/or modalities to increase the range of motion and strength of the joint.

They may educate patients on techniques they can practice and good habits to adapt in order to regain normal jaw function. The physical therapist can also help post-operational patients by minimizing scar tissue and tightness of the surrounding muscles.

Good Habits to Remember

  • Posture: Be aware of your posture in any setting where you tend to hold your head forward and slouch your shoulders (i.e. sitting in front of the computer or in your car).
  • Diet and Chewing Changes: Cut your food into small amounts and stray from opening your mouth wider than the thickness of your thumb. Avoid food that would require prolonged chewing (i.e. gum). Chew your food with your molars instead of your front teeth.

Tongue Positioning: Produce a clucking sound by positioning your tongue on the hard palate of the mouth. Placing the tongue in its resting position can provide muscle relaxation and appropriate nasal breathing which aids in reducing pain.