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TMJ Dysfunction: Causes and Treatment Options


April 21, 2016

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Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, commonly known as TMD, can lead to intense pain and discomfort in the jaw and head. The TMJ is made up of a complex hinge system composed of overlaying bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons creating multiple sources for dysfunction and impairment. To make matters even more complicated, the upper cervical spine and muscles of the neck play a very important role in the control of the TMJ. The good news is it can successfully be treated with physical therapy. The first step however is properly identifying TMD.

TMD Symptoms

TMD symptoms can vary widely from one person to the next. The following is a list of common symptoms seen in patients suffering from TMD.

  • Headaches
  • Earaches
  • Pain and/or a feeling of pressure behind the eyes
  • A popping noise when opening or closing the mouth
  • Pain when yawning or opening the mouth widely
  • Sore jaw muscles
  • Occasional locking of the jaw
  • A sudden misalignment of the teeth
  • Pain with talking and/or eating

Causes of TMD

The complex nature of the TMJ and its interdependence on the cervical spine and surrounding muscles create many avenues for developing TMD. Poor joint mechanics in the upper cervical spine is often the culprit. These can be cause by prolonged sitting and poor posture. Less common causes and seemingly minute, such as chewing gum often, can lead to impairment as well. A comprehensive evaluation by a licensed physical therapist and/or dentist can determine the root cause(s) and create an appropriate plan of care

Treatment for TMD

Treatment for TMD will be tailored to each patient’s specific needs. Many similar techniques will be used across the board with varying intensities and duration depending on the stage of injury and rehabilitation. The following is a list of treatment techniques used by licensed physical therapists at PT Solutions and supported in the evidence:

  • Joint Mobilization/Manipulation
  • Myofascial Techniques
  • Dry Needling
  • Therapeutic Exercise Programs (targeted to the shoulders, neck, and jaw)

It is important to seek care immediately. The longer symptoms persist, the more chronic the pain becomes leading to muscle atrophy, fear voidance behaviors, increased sensitivity to pain, and spreading of symptoms. Take the time to receive a comprehensive evaluation and work with a physical therapist to develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Do you or someone you love suffer from TMD? PT Solutions has physical therapists that specialize in the treatment of this condition. Schedule an appointment with one of these therapists or visit our North Carolina or any clinics near you today!

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