Can TMJ Be Fixed with Physical Therapy?

Apr 28, 2022

Can TMJ Be Fixed with Physical TherapyTMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is the main joint in your jaw. However, TMJ is also used to refer to dysfunction or disorders in this area that can cause pain and other uncomfortable symptoms. People who struggle with grinding or clenching their teeth at night can develop dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint. Disorders of the temporomandibular joint can also occur due to a sudden injury or trauma to the head, jaw, or neck. Jaw issues can also cause pain and other issues in your neck because of how the joint connects your neck and jaw. If you have a TMJ dysfunction or disorder, then your doctor may recommend treatment for neck injuries along with managing your TMJ symptoms.

Thankfully, TMJ disorders and dysfunction are treatable. Talk to your doctor or dentist if you start experiencing any of the common symptoms of TMJ disorders or dysfunction, and find out what treatment options would work best for you. If you live in Georgia, then you can also seek physical therapy for a TMJ disorder without the need for a referral from your doctor. Physical therapy for TMJ can help decrease your pain and discomfort while also helping to restore the natural functioning of your jaw. Here’s what you need to know about TMJ dysfunction and disorders and how TMJ physical therapy can help.

What Is TMJ?

TMJ disorder or dysfunction affects millions of people in the United States each year. You may be surprised to learn that TMJ more commonly affects women than men. This type of dysfunction is more often diagnosed in patients between the ages of 20 and 40. TMJ disorder or dysfunction occurs when the natural function of your jaw becomes limited. Common causes of TMJ issues include stress, grinding or clenching your teeth, or sudden trauma to the area. Other teeth issues include malocclusion, which refers to issues with how your teeth are aligned and how that may impact your everyday jaw movements. Poor posture can also lead to TMJ disorders. When you sit at a desk or hunch forward to look at your phone, the head is typically too far forward. This type of bad posture is often referred to as the forward head position and can negatively affect your head, neck, and jaw.

Symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction & Disorders

Symptoms of TMJ dysfunction or disorder can vary from person to person and may occur temporarily or last for years at a time. The most common symptom of a TMJ issue is jaw pain. TMJ disorders can cause your jaw to get stuck or lock in a certain position. This can cause added pressure on your cheeks, face, and neck, which can cause pain and other symptoms. TMJ issues can also cause headaches, neck pain, and popping sounds when you open your mouth or chew. Other symptoms may include pain while chewing certain foods and difficulty opening your mouth when you talk or eat. If your TMJ dysfunction is caused by an issue with your teeth, like clenching or grinding your teeth, then you might also experience tenderness in your teeth and around your gums. In order to diagnose a TMJ disorder or dysfunction, your doctor will want to know about the symptoms you have been experiencing and locate the source of your pain. A TMJ diagnosis will help inform what treatment options will work best for you.

Treating TMJ Dysfunction & Disorders

Talk to your doctor or dentist if you are experiencing jaw pain and other symptoms of a TMJ disorder or dysfunction. They may want to do a physical assessment of your head, jaw, neck, and posture to look for areas of concern and identify issues with jaw mobility. Here are examples of treatment options your doctor may recommend for TMJ dysfunction and disorders.

Home Remedies

In some cases, you may be able to manage and alleviate your jaw pain and other symptoms of TMJ with remedies at home. Applying cold compresses to your jaw can help reduce pain and swelling in the area. Alternating with a warm compress can help relax tense muscles that support your jaw. You should also avoid tough foods that put a lot of strain on your jaw when you chew. Avoid chewing gum because it requires repetitive movements of your jaw. Because stress and anxiety can increase your chances of developing TMJ dysfunction, you can also work on self-care practices to reduce stressors in your life.

Medications

Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications to address inflammation and pain in your jaw along with other treatment options, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If you find yourself clenching or grinding your teeth due to stress or anxiety, then your doctor may recommend you talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist about medications to help address any mental health concerns contributing to your discomfort.

Surgeries

When the alignment of your teeth causes TMJ dysfunction, then your doctor may refer you to a dentist for corrective dental treatment. When your bite is out of alignment, it can cause you to grind or clench your teeth without you even realizing it. They may also recommend injections into trigger points that affect your jaw. These invasive procedures are rare, and your doctor will typically start with non-invasive and conservative approaches to treatment first.

Physical Therapy for TMJ

A great way to help experience long-term relief from symptoms of a TMJ disorder is with physical therapy. In addition to dental procedures, talk therapy, and stress management, physical therapy can provide you with stretches, exercises, and manual therapies to provide long-lasting relief from TMJ disorders.

Reduce Jaw Pain

TMJ physical therapy will help reduce your jaw pain while you go about your daily routines. TMJ disorders can make simple movements like talking, chewing, and yawning incredibly painful. A physical therapist will work with you to reduce your pain through a variety of techniques. Manual therapy can help loosen tense, sore muscles in your face, jaw, and neck. This type of hands-on care can also help lessen stress and pressure on the temporomandibular joint. Releasing muscle tension around the jaw can help set you up for success with stretches and exercises to improve jaw mobility.

Improve Jaw Movements

Physical therapy for TMJ pain will provide you with manual therapy, stretches, and exercises to improve your jaw movements. One goal of physical therapy for TMJ is to restore the natural movement of your jaw. Hands-on techniques and exercises with your physical therapist can help restore flexibility in the joint and also break up any scar tissue or adhesions. Stretches and exercises for TMJ will help strengthen your jaw muscles and restore healthy functioning to the area. Your physical therapist may recommend daily stretches or exercises you can do at home to help reduce stress and strain on your jaw.

Improve Posture

Improving your posture will also help reduce symptoms of TMJ disorders. When your typical posture involves your head too far forward, this can put more stress and strain on the muscles under your chin. When this happens, your lower jaw will pull back, causing your mouth to rest in an open position. This puts a lot of pressure on your temporomandibular joint, leading to overworked jaw muscles. Developing awareness of your posture and learning how to improve your posture will help restore natural movement to your jaw. Improving your posture can also help restore healthy functioning to the rest of your body and bring your head, neck, and spine into better alignment.

Preventing TMJ with a Physical Therapist

TMJ treatment and physical therapy will also involve preventing TMJ problems from bothering you again. Physical therapists offer patient education on proper posture and effective stretches and exercises to help you reduce a flare-up of TMJ dysfunction in the future. Try these three tips from your physical therapist to help prevent TMJ:

Place screens at eye level.

Whether you work on a laptop or on your phone for hours at a time, try to keep the screen at your eye level when you are sitting or standing with a healthy posture. Adjust your computer monitor so that you are looking straight ahead instead of tilting your chin down or to the side for long periods of time. Hold your phone directly in front of you instead of down or to the side, too.

Avoid sleeping on your stomach.

When you sleep on your stomach, this actually puts a lot of pressure on your head and neck. Turning your head to the side while sleeping on your stomach can put added stress and pressure on your jaw. You may be more likely to grind or clench your teeth at night when you sleep on your stomach instead of your back.

Practice TMJ exercises at home.

Your physical therapist will provide you with an arsenal of stretches and exercises to do at home that will help you prevent TMJ pain in the future. These may include tongue lifts, jaw movements, and targeted pressure on your chin while you open and close your mouth. Your physical therapist will develop a personalized plan of care that will address your specific symptoms and TMJ dysfunction.

Visit AICA Orthopedics in Snellville and get started with a physical therapist to help alleviate your TMJ pain today!

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