If you’ve ever experienced jaw pain, you may have been told, “You have TMJ!”. But do you really have that? The short answer is Yes! In fact, you and everyone you know has TMJ.
TMJ is the short form for temporomandibular joint. As it is in the name, that’s just the name of a joint in your body, to be more specific, the jaw joint. Therefore, as long as you have jaw joints, you have TMJ.
Pathology in this joint is generally referred to as Temporomandibular dysfunction (or TMD for short). Like anything else in life, this joint is all about balance! There are a lot of tiny muscles around your jaw and face that are responsible for opening and closing your mouth, one of the most important functions of the human body. You need this joint for functions like eating and speaking.
What are the symptoms of TMJ dysfunction?
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you might be dealing with TMD:
- Pain around the jaw
- Clicking of the joint (associated with pain)
- Limited range of motion of the jaw (not able to fully open the mouth)
- Morning headaches
- Ear pain
- Neck pain and stiffness (especially around the base of the skull)
- Pain with chewing and/or talking
- Pain that increases with stress
Why does my jaw click?
Your jaw clicks when the fine balance around the joint is compromised. There is a disc in the middle of your jaw joint which is responsible for smooth movements of the bones of the joint. This disc can be pushed out of the place due to a variety of reasons (like excessive muscle tension), which can lead to clicking around the joint. Pain and stiffness can be due to many factors such as excessive muscle tension, degenerative changes, tissue irritation, or joints that move too much or too little.
What can I do to control my TMJ pain?
There are a number of self-management techniques that can help with this pain. The goal of these techniques is to reduce the tension around the joint and give it some rest. Some suggestions that you might find helpful are:
- Avoid end range movements (e.g. taking big bites)
- Try a softer diet for a period of time
- Avoid habitual chewing (e.g. gum)
- Pay attention to your posture
- Wear your mouth guard at night (if you have one prescribed by your dentist)
- Avoid intentional clicking of the jaw
- consider anti-inflammatory pain medications (talk to your doctor or pharmacist if this is appropriate for you)
Who should I see for TMJ pain?
There is no one healthcare profession who is dedicated just to the treatment of TMJ pain. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should consider discussing it with your dentist, TMJ trained physical therapist/massage therapist or your physician.
How can physiotherapy help my TMJ pain?
Your therapist assesses your jaw joints, muscles that can affect the balance around the joints, your posture and your neck. Yes, your neck! In certain cases, your neck and posture can lead to pain around the jaw.
Depending on the findings of the assessment, your therapist may consider any of the following treatment options:
- Soft tissue release (e.g. massaging muscles – take a look at this great article on massage therapy for jaw discomfort with TMJ by Juliette Woodruff, RMT)
- Mobilizing the joints that are too stiff to move!
- Home exercises
- Education on what to do and what to avoid
- Correcting posture
If you are dealing with a jaw pain/stiffness that is not improving with self-management techniques, and/or you have seen your dentist or doctor but still have discomfort around your jaw, you may benefit from physiotherapy treatment.
Contact us if you are interested in learning more about the treatment of TMD or would like to book a treatment for your TMJ pain/stiffness. Speak with Milad Bazaz-Jazayeri, Registered Physical Therapist – firstname.lastname@example.org – to learn more about the treatment that fits your needs best.