Do you find it difficulty to eat or even yawn due to pain in your jaw? Do you hear popping or a clicking sensation when you open your mouth or are talking? Do you suffer from headaches, neck pain, and or ringing in your ears (tinnitus)? If you suffer from one or many of these symptoms, the origin of your symptoms and pain may be coming from the temporo-mandibular joint, often referred to as TMJ and/or TMD (tempo-mandibular disorder). TMD is often underdiagnosed and not treated, leading to sever pain and dysfunction with activities such as eating and talking. Many people suffering from TMD, seek medical attention from a dentist, who fit them for a custom night guard, which can help alleviate some of the pain, but rarely eliminate to problem. The night guard that useful for people who grind their teeth but does little to address the musculoskeletal factors that contribute to this condition.
What is the TMJ (Tempo-mandibular joint)
The TMJ is in front of the ears on both sides of the face, where the skull meets the jaw. The joint is supported by several muscles, cartilage, ligaments and an intra-joint disk that allows the joint to move and adapt to a variety of motions. Jaw pain and clicking can come from any one of these structures, but most commonly the pain comes from the muscles around the joint or abnormal stress or degenerative changes to the small disk in the joint during opening and closing. Posture, neck mobility and muscle balance around the jaw and neck play an important role in proper function of the joint. This disorder is called TMD by physicians, or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder.
Common Causes of TMD
There are many proposed causes for TMD. One of the most common of these is any history of trauma, fracture or blow to the chin or jaw. It is proposed that these types of injuries are the start of many jaw problems that surface later in life. These injuries commonly occur in children with normal play and sports and are often not painful in the jaw at the time of injury.
Repetitive grinding of the teeth, also known as bruxism, and clenching of the jaw during sleep are also a common cause of TMD. Patients who do this are often not aware of these habits unless discovered by a dentist due to abnormal wear patterns on the teeth or by a family member who hears it.
Habitual gum chewing and nail biting are often causing of jaw pain due to the repetitive stress.
Many dental problems associated with mal-occlusion or misalignment of their teeth can cause abnormal wear and tear to the joint. It is also very common for patients with high levels of stress and anxiety to suffer from TMD due to frequent grinding or clenching of their teeth.
Why Physical Therapy Is A Great Treatment Option for TMD
Very often, patients diagnosed with TMD are told they must resign themselves to “living with” their condition or having extremely risky and expensive jaw surgery. But knowledge of the causes of TMD are helping qualified physical therapists discover how muscle and joint remobilization techniques can dramatically decrease the symptoms related to TMD, and in some cases eliminate most of the headaches related to the disorder. Most often, addressing the musculoskeletal system of face and neck, can have a big impact on significantly decreasing jaw pain.
Manual physical therapy includes hands on techniques to improve joint motion and reduce muscle stiffness, trigger points around the jaw to alleviate stress on the disk and joint. These mobilizations are used to help the disk move in a normal way, decrease pain, and increase motion.
Specific manual therapy procedures are designed to help reduce a “lock” of the jaw due to a displaced disk. Specific exercises are then prescribed to control and restore motion at the jaw and help re-educate the muscles surrounding the joint.
Soft tissue mobilization techniques are hands on techniques that are focused at the muscles around the jaw to reduce the trigger points and tenderness. Eventually, over time, the joints around your jaw will re-learn its proper motion, and the pain and discomfort associated with TMD will dramatically decrease or completely disappear.
If bruxism (nighttime clenching of the jaw and/or grinding of teeth) is a part of your problem, a therapist may also recommend a consult with a qualified dental professional. They may determine that your recovery would be more complete if you used a custom-fitted mouthguard at night. A mouth guard, or splint, will ensure that when you clench your teeth at night, your teeth don’t touch and the pressure you are enacting won’t translate to your temporomandibular joint.
Trigger Point Dry Needling for TMD
Trigger Point Dry Needling therapy is another treatment offered by physical therapists that has been shown to be effective in treating these trigger points. Trigger Point Dry Needling can target very specific muscles in your jaw that are contracting and causing your jaw to misalign—and often cause headaches. If effective, Trigger Point Dry Needling will release the muscle spasm and your jaw will immediately return to a relaxed state. There are also many muscles of the head and neck that referred pain to the jaw region, which can mimic TMD. Often, identifying trigger points in the neck, head, and facial region and with successful Trigger Point Dry Needling, can have an immediate reduction of pain affect for the person suffering from jaw pain. The therapists at Optimum Physical Therapy and Wellness are certified and perform Trigger Point Dry Needling daily.
Don’t Be Resolved to “Just Live With It”
If you or someone you know has been experiencing jaw and facial pain and have been told to “just live with it” please contact Optimum Physical Therapy and Wellness to consult with one of our physical therapists. We can discuss how physical therapy can help to alleviate your current pain, as well as provide ways to prevent your jaw pain from returning. Why suffer daily with simple tasks, such as talking, yawning, and eating, when there are many treatment techniques that can improve your daily life.