Do you think you suffer from tension headaches but have failed to find relief from traditional headache treatments? Your pain could be caused by TMJ. Here’s what you need to know about TMJ and the other possible causes of jaw pain, along with how physical therapy can be an effective treatment.

The TMJ Joint: Basic Jaw Anatomy

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint connecting your lower jaw to the temporal bones of your skull. In fact, there are actually two temporomandibular joints that lie on each side of your jaw, in front of your ears. Besides including muscles, the TMJ joint also contains nerves, blood vessels and bones.

It’s these jaw muscles that allow you to chew, talk and yawn. There also are rounded ends on your lower jaw, known as the condyles that slide along the joint’s socket. Furthermore, a soft disc lies between the condyle and the temporal bone that’s designed for absorbing and distributing movement from talking and chewing. When this disc depreciates, it can lead to the intervertebral discs becoming deteriorated, which can cause symptoms, including pain, weakness and numbness.

 

What is Temporamandibular Joint Disorder?

Simply put, TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder) is a term that refers to various conditions affecting the jaw muscles, the temporomandibular joints and the nerves linked with facial pain. These symptoms may involve either one or both sides of a person’s face, jaw or head. Sometimes, they occur following an injury.

Common Symptoms of TMD

It’s important to recognize the common symptoms of TMD. In addition to having pain that shoots through your jaw, face or neck, other symptoms may include limited jaw movement, jaw locking, a painful popping or clicking of the jaw and stiff jaw muscles. Another “red light” is noting a change in how your lower and upper teeth line up together.

Other Causes of Jaw/Neck Pain

Although TMD is one of the major reasons for jaw and neck pain, there can be other causes, such as:

  • Teeth grinding—Often, people who grind their teeth aren’t even aware they’re doing it as it’s usually done while sleeping. It can becaused by stress, missing teeth, an abnormal bite, crooked teeth or other conditions. Besides creating jaw pain and headaches, teeth grinding can lead to tooth sensitivity, tooth fractures and loose teeth. To treat this problem, dentists typically recommend that their patients wear a mouth guard at night.
  • In some cases, jaw, neck or facial pain isn’t caused by TMD or teeth grinding. Instead, it can be due to jaw injuries, sinus issues, arthritis, periodontal disease and toothaches.

 

People Most at Risk

Some people are more at risk for TMD than others. For example:

  • Women are more than twice as likely to have TMD as men.
  • People between the ages of 30 to 50 years old tend to be more vulnerable.
  • Individuals suffering from stress or structural deformity can develop this condition.
  • What’s more, people with diseases, such as OA (osteoarthritis), RA (rheumatoid arthritis), fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and sleep disorders tend to have TMD more than other populations.

How Physical Therapy Can Help

One of the main treatments that works is physical therapy.

  • Physical therapists show clients how to use jaw exercises that help in strengthening muscles and improving flexibility as well as range of motion.
  • They also use heat/ice treatments and therapies, which can promote better blood circulation to the jaw.
  • Massage treatments are used for relieving muscle tension.
  • Postural correction exercises and other exercises are very effective.
  • Class IV Laser Treatment.

 

Other Nonsurgical Treatments

Doctors and/or dentists use and recommend several ways to relieve TMJ pain, including

  • Medications, such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and pain relievers
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Using oral appliances or oral splints
  • Topical steroid treatments (iontophoresis)
  • Joint mobilizations
  • Counseling on how to change behaviors that may be intensifying pain
  • Changing eating habits
  • Class IV Laser Tx

Considerations and Warnings

  • If nonsurgical treatments aren’t effective, surgery or more invasive treatments, may be needed, such as arthrocentesisTMJarthroscopy, open-joint surgery, modified condylotomy and other procedures.
  • There are several ways that the TMJ can become injured. These include causes, such as whiplash, a heavy blow to the lower jaw or side of the head or the stretching of the joint.

For more information, please contact us. At Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab, we don’t just treat your pain. We fix your problem. You can call us at 570-208-2787 to speak with one of our Doctors of PT or email us at cawleyptfrank@gmail.com.

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