Are you suffering from headaches, jaw pain, ear pain, or constant earaches? It could be your Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) and if you experience severe pain or discomfort you could have Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD). Here at Physical Therapy Specialists – Orange County – one of our TMJ Specialists can check for a variety of symptoms and provide you with the best TMD treatment options.
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ for short, is the hinge joint that connects your jaw to your skull. When you open and close your mouth, the joint slides with the help of a disk that is located within the joint. Muscles of the jaw allow the joints to move up and down, side to side, and forward and back. TMJ dysfunction includes any condition that causes pain or limits motion of the jaw. This joint is involved in all actions of the mouth, including chewing and talking. Temporomandibular joint problems can cause pain during eating and sometimes even during talking.
TMD affects many people differently. Many sufferers end up seeing multiple doctors for various other symptoms before realizing that they are originating from the TMJ. Symptoms include:
- Pain and tenderness around jaw, cheeks, ears, and neck
- Headaches or migraines
- Jaw pain or stiffness
- Popping, grating, or clicking jaw
- Inability to open jaw completely, locking jaws
- Painful chewing
- Tired feeling in face
- Change of facial expression
- A change in how your lower and upper teeth fit together, e.g., can’t make one side of one’s bite or the other meet
- Tinnitus or “ringing” in the ears
What causes TMD?
There is no one cause of TMD. Anything that causes tension in the jaw and temporal muscles or a CR/CO discrepancy can lead to problems with the TMJ. There are often multiple factors that coincide to cause the disorder and pain. These could be:
- Injury to the jaw or neck (e.g. hit in the face or whiplash): This is one of the most frequent causes of sudden onset of severe pain
- Poor posture including head, neck, and shoulders.
- Grinding or clenching your teeth (also called bruxism)
- Sleep-disordered breathing occurring when your airway collapses while you’re asleep blocking your breathing. the lower jaw’s instinct is to clamp down or thrust forward in an attempt to open the airway
- Arthritis: Arthritis can occur in any joint, including the TMJ
- Dislocation or erosion of the joint
- Improper bite alignment
Stress is often considered a cause of TMD. However, in my experience, I have seen stress as exacerbating a condition that already exists.
TMJ – TMD – Treatment
Identifying the factors responsible for the development of a TMJ disorder is the primary goal of the initial evaluation. Physical therapists can help you learn to care for your jaw through improved posture, gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, use of heat or cold, and re-training of jaw movements.
At PTS, we use a variety of modalities and techniques to treat TMD including cold laser technology, gentle soft tissue and joint mobilization techniques directly to the muscles of the jaw, TENS (electrical stimulation), postural alignment, corrective exercises, and spinal mobilization.