What Causes TMJ?

A man holding a cold compress to his jaw to alleviate TMJ painMost people do not think much about their jaw, but it’s actually the single most used joint in the human body. More than ten million people suffer from a temporomandibular joint disorder, with experts estimating that 85% of the population will experience TMJ symptoms at some point. 

Symptoms of TMJ include jaw pain and headaches severe enough to interfere with speaking, eating, and chewing, as well as pain extending to the ear and even difficulty opening or closing the mouth at all. 

Although dealing with TMJ can be painful, there are TMJ treatment options that can help. Contact the TMJ experts at Cawley Physical Therapy today to learn more.

What is TMJ?

Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) helps you open and close your jaw. There is one joint on each side of the jaw. The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to your skull and acts as a sliding hinge. Various muscles and ligaments help make the joint work. TMJ disorders can cause pain in the joints of your jaw and the muscles that control the movement of your jaw.

Common Causes of TMJ

What causes TMJ? It’s not always an easy question to answer. In fact, it can often be challenging to determine the precise cause of TMJ disorder. For example, some people have arthritis that contributes to TMJ pain. Other times a disk erodes or moves out of proper alignment.

A doctor examining an x-ray of a patient’s jaw for the cause of TMJ disorder

Establishing the cause or causes of the condition can help your healthcare professional decide on the best course of treatment. Common causes of TMJ include:

Trauma or damage to the jaw. Jaw injury is a common cause of TMJ disorder, especially among those who participate in contact sports, such as boxing. In some cases, TMJ does not develop until long after the injury. For example, if the injury causes a dislocated jaw joint, the body may try to adapt. The muscles will function differently. It may be hard for them to return to their normal resting state, which leads to facial pain. 

Stress. 60% of the US population admit they are under constant daily stress. Most of us experience stress and anxiety when coping with demanding situations, but persistent stress can be bad for our health. Frequently, stressed individuals grind their teeth, leading to TMJ symptoms.

Clenching the teeth. Clenching or grinding the teeth is known as bruxism. About 10% of adults suffer from bruxism, but an estimated 80% of these cases go untreated. When you clench your teeth, your top teeth are pressing against your bottom teeth. This is not supposed to happen unless you are chewing food. Teeth clenching causes us to tense the muscles around our TMJ and leads to pain.

Biting the tongue. The tongue is attached to the lower jaw, so there is a relationship between your jaw alignment and your tongue. Also, jaw problems can cause your tongue to obstruct your airways, especially when you are asleep.

Yelling. You may associate dislocating your jaw with a car accident or a blow to the jaw, but there are several ways to dislocate your jaw. Any jaw movement that strains the jaw muscles, such as biting hard foods, yawning, or yelling, can result in TMJ symptoms.

TMJ Prognosis

Early diagnosis can improve the prognosis for TMJ. But, of course, each situation is unique. Depending on the cause and severity of the condition, TMJ can take anywhere from several days to several weeks to resolve. Most cases of temporomandibular joint pain get better in approximately six to eight weeks.

TMJ Treatment

Your healthcare professional may use several treatments for your TMJ symptoms. The goal of your plan of care is to reduce or eliminate inflammation and pain, improve jaw mobility, and achieve the normal function of your jaw. Common treatments include:

  • Over the counter medications to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Heat and ice. Heat may relax the muscles and decrease pain. Ice may also be used to reduce jaw pain and inflammation.
  • Massage techniques. Your healthcare professional may use gentle massage to relax muscles, improve circulation and encourage a normal range of motion in your temporomandibular joint. 
  • TMJ pain relief exercises, such as chin tucks and side-to-side pen exercises.
  • Relaxation techniques, such as rest, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation
  • A diet of soft foods to relieve the pressure and stress on your jaw joint.

Get the Best TMJ Treatment at Cawley Physical Therapy

When you need physical therapy for TMJ, no one is better equipped to help you get on the path to recovery than Cawley Physical Therapy. Our expert team of healthcare professionals will devise a specialized TMJ treatment plan specifically tailored to your unique needs and capabilities.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, email us or call 570-208-2787 today. We look forward to hearing from you!