Physical therapy for temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD or TMJ) can be helpful in decreasing pain and improving jaw motion.
Physical Therapy for Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD)
Temporomandibular joint disorder, also called TMJ or TMD, is a common condition characterized by pain in the jaw that can cause difficulty in opening and closing the jaw comfortably. Temporomandibular joint disorder is often accompanied by a clicking or catching of the jaw when it is opened or closed. TMJ disorder can be caused by:
- Posture problems
- Muscle spasms/lockjaw (trismus)
- Articular disc displacement
- Bruxism (teeth grinding)
- Jaw surgery
- Jaw fracture/injury
- Gum chewing
- Teeth misalignment
Depending on the cause of your TMJ, physical therapy can be an effective treatment for regaining normal and comfortable jaw movement and can be utilized on its own or in conjunction with anti-inflammatory medications and/or muscle relaxants, as well as other cooperative treatment plans.
Physical Therapy Evaluation
Our experienced physical therapists can help determine the cause of your jaw pain through a comprehensive evaluation of jaw mobility, as well as the neck, thoracic spine, and shoulder girdle as these structures can affect jaw function. Once the cause of your TMJ has been determined, your therapist will create an individualized treatment plan based on your specific needs and symptoms. Because our therapists have a keen understanding of the relationship between the jaw, neck, and teeth, they work closely with physicians and/or dentists in cases which involve more extensive causalities.
Assessments that may be done at your evaluation include:
- Evaluation of posture
- Neck and jaw range of motion measurements
- Palpation of jaw structures
- Measurement of jaw and postural muscle strength
Physical Therapy Treatments for TMJ
Physical therapy goals for TMJ include improvement in jaw functionality and restoration of the interaction of affected muscles and joints. Your therapist may incorporate various treatments designed to improve posture, decrease inflammation and pain, improve jaw mobility, and help you regain normal jaw function. Treatments may include many potential methods for rehabilitating your joint.
Potential physical therapy treatment methods to rehabilitate the jaw include:
- Soft tissue massage: Massage applied to the muscles of the jaw, face, neck, and shoulders promotes increased circulation and relaxation which allows normal motion to return.
- Postural instruction: If posture is contributing to jaw dysfunction, specific posture exercises, such as the slouch-overcorrect procedure or scapular strengthening, may be recommended.
- Joint mobilization: Mobilizations to the jaw can improve mobility, restore normal joint motion, and relocate a displaced articular disc if necessary.
- Targeted jaw exercises: TMJ exercises are designed to strengthen, stretch, and relax the jaw, as well as increase jaw mobility, promote healing, and reduce jaw clicking.
- Ultrasound/electric stimulation: Providing deep heat to the tissues can improve cellular mobility and provide pain relief. Ultrasound can promote healing, repair tissue, reduce inflammation, and decrease pain and spasms.
- Heat/ice application: Heat relaxes the muscles and reduces spasms and pain. Ice can be utilized to decrease pain and inflammation.
You may also be prescribed a mouth guard in conjunction with your dentist if your TMJ is related to bruxism, jaw clenching, or malocclusion.
What to Avoid with TMJ/TMD
If you have been diagnosed with temporomandibular joint disorder, your therapist will likely recommend that you avoid certain activities and/or foods. Specific movements of the jaw may be placing undue stress on the joint and aggravating your TMJ.
Activities to avoid may include:
- Gum chewing
- Biting on pens or pencils
- Eating particularly hard foods
- Leaning with your chin on your hand
- Nail biting
- Chewing on one side of the mouth
- Teeth clenching
Most cases of TMJ improve within six to eight weeks. Working through a personalized treatment plan with a licensed physical therapist can help in your recovery. If you are experiencing pain and discomfort from temporomandibular joint disorder, please contact our office for an evaluation that can begin your road to recovery.