Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) is a broad term that encompasses various disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). If you experience jaw pain with chewing, jaw clicking/popping, facial pain, or frequent headaches, you might have a TMD. Physiotherapists can diagnose and treat TMD.
Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Anatomy and Function
The TMJ is composed of two articulating bones: the temporal bone (part of the skull) and the condyle of the mandible (jaw bone). There is an articular disc located between the two bones. The disc is firm but flexible, and its purpose is to reduce friction and cushion the repetitive force between the two bones during chewing, talking, and any other joint movement.
During jaw opening, the condyle of the mandible and the articular disc normally slide forward in unison. The muscles surrounding the joint are responsible for moving the mandible and the disc in sync. If the condyle and the disc are out of sync with each other, this is called disc displacement and is characterized by pain and clicking sounds when opening the mouth.
Symptoms of TMD can include the following:
- Jaw pain when opening the mouth wide or chewing
- Locking of the jaw
- Limited range of motion, or unable to fully open the mouth
- Painful clicking or popping when opening or closing the mouth
- Tooth wear and tear from grinding or clenching the jaw
- Facial pain
- Ringing in the ears
Causes of TMD
Often, there is no single cause of TMD. There is usually a combination of factors which predispose a person to TMD.
Poor posture of the neck, head, and shoulders contributes to muscular tension and strain. Poor posture may cause muscle imbalance and changes in muscle length in the neck and shoulders. These muscles pull on the jaw and can alter the resting position of the mandible in the joint, resulting in increased stress on the TMJ and disc. After prolonged time, the joints in the neck and back may become stiff and cause associated symptoms such as neck pain, limited range of motion, and headaches.
In addition, jaw clenching or teeth grinding may contribute to the development of TMD. When the jaw is clenched, the muscles are under increased tension and may pull the disc out of position. It normally happens while the person is asleep, so they are unaware they are doing it. Clenching or grinding can also result from being under stress (e.g., at home or at work) for a prolonged period of time.
Finally, trauma or injury to the TMJ (such as a broken jaw) may predispose a person to TMD.
Treatment for TMD
Physiotherapists assess and treat TMD using non-surgical and drug-free techniques. The physiotherapists at BodyTech Physiotherapy will evaluate your condition to determine the underlying factors contributing to your pain. They will prescribe an individualized exercise and stretching program based on your unique needs. Our physiotherapists are also trained to correct biomechanical changes of the TMJ and neck using manual therapy.
Other options for treatment include:
- Relaxation procedures
- Dietary modification to relieve jaw pain during chewing
- Dental orthotics or mouthguards worn at night. These help to prevent teeth grinding and jaw clenching
- Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications
- Medications to relax the muscles of the jaw
- Surgery, in rare cases
Temporomandibular joint disorder is a complex and multifaceted condition. With all the factors that can contribute to TMD it is important to visit a physiotherapist for a detailed assessment to ensure treatment is individualized to your specific issues. If you experience jaw pain and headaches, consider seeking help from a physiotherapist.