Temporomandibular Joint Disorder Treatment
If you are experiencing pain or fatigue in your jaw, you may be suffering from TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder). While this disorder may be painful and prevent you from doing common, everyday activities, there is hope.
- difficulty opening your mouth to eat or talk
- ringing in your ears
- popping sounds in your jaw
- neck pain
- locking your jaw
The temporomandibular joint guides jaw
movement and TMJ can be caused by a number of things
including bad posture habits, chronic jaw clenching at
night (bruxism), problems with teeth alignment (malocclusion),
a fracture, surgery, or trismus (lockjaw).
How Is TMJ Diagnosed?
To identify the cause of the symptoms, we will review your
medical history, and discuss any previous surgery, fractures,
or other injuries to your head, neck, or jaw. A physical examination of your jaw and neck along with an evaluation of your posture and cervical spine will take place. We will also examine the TMJ to find out how well it can open and whether there are any abnormalities in jaw motion.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help with TMJ?
We can help restore the natural movement of your jaw and decrease your pain. Some treatments that may be used include posture education, manual therapy to improve jaw movement, and a series of special "low-load" exercises that don't exert a lot of pressure on your TMJ but that can strengthen the muscles of the jaw and restore a more natural, pain-free motion. In addition to manual therapy if your pain is severe, we may decide to use treatments such as electrical stimulation or ultrasound to reduce pain.
What are some exercises to help TMJ?
A physical therapist can prescribe the appropriate program of techniques and exercises that will ultimately decrease pain and improve function. Some examples may be to start with making sure that the neck and upper back are balanced via stretching and strengthening. In addition to neutral posture, you want an awareness of the normal rest position of the tongue and jaw, which is achieved by keeping the teeth slightly apart and the jaw muscles relaxed. This creates what is called the 'freeway space' of the jaw. The goal of the awareness exercises is to introduce good habits and to replace any poor habits such as grinding or clenching.
It may take 2 months or more to eliminate the bad habits and return to a normal resting state requiring conscious effort with frequent daily practice. Specific jaw exercises may include opening the mouth with the tongue lightly touching the roof of the mouth to increase awareness of the jaw position. In addition, general aerobic activity and relaxation exercises, including deep breathing, are recommended for optimal results with TMJ problems.
Can TMJ Be Prevented?
Maintaining good sitting posture is key to preventing TMJ problems. In addition, general tips include the avoidance of repetitive gum chewing, smoking, opening the jaw too wide, eating hard or chewy foods, and sleeping on your stomach. At work you’ll want to make sure your work is directly in front of you and not off to the side where you are forced to look in one direction for long periods of time, and using a headset that allows the neck and jaw to remain in a restful or neutral position.