If you’ve ever had pain in your jaw, you may have heard the term TMJ. The temporomandibular joints are the joints that connect the jawbone to the skull. These joints work during jaw movement such as opening and closing the mouth, talking and chewing; and, like any area of the body, injury and overuse can cause problems. Problems with the joints, muscles and other tissue in this area is called Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMD). Essentially, something is wrong with the joints that connect the mandible (the jaw bone) to the skull, and this usually involves the muscles that work to move the jaw and mouth in chewing and talking.
There are many potential causes of TMD, and problems with these joints can be painful and limit everyday activities. The most common symptoms are pain and tenderness when palpating the muscles of the jaw, and pain with moving the jaw during activities like chewing, clenching, talking or yawning. The joint can lose mobility, which can cause difficulty with talking or eating, and noises like clicking and popping can often be heard. TMD is often related to headache disorders, and pain can sometimes radiate into the teeth or neck.
While pain can range from annoying to debilitating, pain from TMD is very treatable. Physical therapy works to improve range of motion in the joints and muscles, strengthen the affected muscles, and promote improved overall function of the jaw. Physical therapists also look at what caused the initial injury to occur, and what can be done to prevent future problems with the joint. One of the easiest things to do during the day is to take note of how often you tense your jaw and focus on keeping that area relaxed. (If you keep your mouth closed and clenched during the day, the TMJ stays in a tensed position.) In some cases, it may be beneficial to see a dentist for a night guard to prevent clenching and grinding the teeth at night.
TMD and TMJ pain can be worrisome and stressful, but the important thing to remember is that they are joints and like any joint in the body, skilled physical therapy can decrease pain, normalize movement and prevent problems in the future.
If you live in the Portland, Oregon area, contact Life’s Work Physical Therapy at 503-295-2585 or visit www.lifesworkpt.com to schedule an initial evaluation with one of our expert physical therapists. If you live outside the Portland area, please refer to our previous blog on How to Find a Good PT and visit apta.org to locate a great physical therapist in your area.