The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) refers to the point in the jaw near the ears that opens and closes the mouth. It’s a joint we don’t think about too often – until there’s a problem.
The temporomandibular joint combines a hinge action with a sliding motion. The bones in the joint that interact are covered with cartilage and a small disk, which helps keep the movement smooth. If this disk erodes or moves out of its proper alignment, the cartilage or bone itself get damaged and can cause pain and other symptoms.
It’s estimated that almost 30% of the population is affected by TMJ disorders. These disorders and TMJ issues usually express themselves with jaw pain, but can also lead to headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain, ear pain, and more. In severe cases, patients may not be able to open their mouths, chew or speak properly.
Some symptoms of TMJ disorders are:
- Difficulty opening and closing your mouth
- Popping or clicking noises when you chew
- Problems biting or chewing
The cause of TMJ disorders are often unknown. It could be trauma such as a car accident, excessive dental work, teeth grinding, jaw clenching, stress causing muscle tension, or poor posture. Sometimes, there are cases of disorders that are completely without a clear cause.
Whatever your cause and symptoms of TMJ disorders, physiotherapy can be a treatment method that provides relief in the short and long term. It can help improve the function of the joint to alleviate symptoms in your temporomandibular joint.
Do’s and Don’t’s of TMJ
- Don’t eat anything that requires excessive chewing, like hard bread, raw vegetables, or tough meat
- Don’t chew gum
- Cut food into small pieces to reduce chewing
- Sleep on your back to alleviate pressure
- Don’t open your mouth too wide when yawning, speaking, singing, coughing, etc.
- Maintain good posture
- Reduce stress in your life
- Don’t pop or crack your jaw
- Don’t move your jaw in a way that it makes a grinding sound
Physiotherapy for TMJ
Before beginning physiotherapy for TMJ, it is helpful to visit a dentist. They can provide mouthguards, bite plates, and other devices that work synergistically with physiotherapy. Just like any other type of physiotherapy, physiotherapy for TMJ begins with an examination. Your jaw function and structure is examined, as well as your posture, neck muscles, and a description of your symptoms. An examination usually reveals any jaw deviation and possible clicking. Examining posture is important because TMJ relies heavily on proper posture and mobility.
There are a variety of exercises and methods that physiotherapists can use to help treat the symptoms of TMJ. Exercises must increase the strength of the surrounding muscle while still helping to maintain flexibility and mobility of the joint. Lateral jaw movements and opening the jaw as wide as possible help to promote better joint function. Light massage therapy can help increase blood floor and promote flexibility. In some cases, there may be scar tissue from years of damage to the joint that needs to be released.
Physiotherapists can also give suggestions about lifestyle and health changes that can benefit TMJ treatment. For example, it’s important to reduce stress as this can cause flare ups of TMJ because of tension in the shoulders, neck, and jaw, as well as teeth grinding and jaw clenching while you sleep.