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Common Conditions

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction


The Temporomandibular Joint is a hinge that connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull, which are in front of each ear. This joint lets you move your jaw up and down, and side to side so that you can talk, chew and yawn. Hence, problems with your jaw and the muscles in your face that control it are known as Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction. It is also most common amongst women and those between the ages of 20 to 40 years old.

So what causes TMJ Dysfunction?

The Temporomandibular joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions. The parts of the bones that interact in the joint are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk which normally keeps the movement smooth. Painful TMJ Dysfunction  can also occur if the disk moves out of its proper alignment, the joint’s cartilage is damaged by arthritis or the joint is damaged by a heavy blow or whiplash. Actions such as grinding or clenching your teeth (Bruxism) which puts a lot of pressure on the joint can also result in this dysfunction.

Factors that may increase the risk of developing TMJ disorders include various types of Arthritis such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis, jaw injury, chronic grinding or clenching of teeth or certain connective tissue diseases that cause problems that may affect the Temporomandibular joint.

TMJ Dysfunction often causes severe pain and discomfort. It can be temporary or last many years. It might affect one or both sides of your face accompanied with some swelling. Some common symptoms may include pain or tenderness in your face, jaw joint area, neck and shoulders, and in or around the ear when you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide. Jaws that get stuck or locked in the open or closed mouth position as well as clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when you open or close your mouth or chew is a tell-tale sign as well. Some have also experienced toothaches, headaches, neck aches, dizziness, hearing problems, upper shoulder pain and ringing in the ears (Tinnitus).

Physical therapy can help treat TMJ Dysfunction. Your therapist can help you restore the natural movement of your jaw and decrease your pain. Manual therapy will be done to stretch the jaw in order to restore normal joint and muscle flexibility or break up scar tissues (“adhesions”) that may develop when there is constant injury. Low-load exercises that do not exert a lot of pressure on your TMJ but can strengthen the muscles of the jaw and restore a more natural pain-free motion will also be prescribed to aid in your recovery. Posture awareness when you are sitting and walking will be taught. If in doubt, seek professional advice.

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