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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. This dysfunction is 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 impaired 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.

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. Other 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 is also a tell-tale sign. Some have also experienced toothaches, headaches, neck aches, dizziness, hearing problems, upper shoulder pain and ringing in the ears (Tinnitus).

Physical therapy is recommended for TMJ Dysfunction. Your therapist can help you restore the natural movement of your jaw and decrease your pain. Based on your condition, your therapist will select treatments that will work best for you. Your treatment program may include manual therapy, posture education and personalized low-load exercises. Manual therapy will be done to stretch the jaw in order to recondition normal joint and muscle flexibility or break up scar tissues (adhesions) that sometimes develop when there is constant injury. You will also be taught posture awareness to improve the resting position of your jaw, head, neck, breastbone and shoulder blades when you are sitting and walking. Low-load exercises that do not exert a lot of pressure on your TMJ but can strengthen the muscles of the jaw and allow a more natural pain-free motion will also be prescribed to aid in your recovery. If in doubt, seek professional advice.