The Temporomandibular joint is the hinge-joint that connects the jaw to the skull. It is located just in front of the ear on each side of the head. These joints are very flexible, allowing the mouth to open and close and move side-to-side smoothly during talking, chewing and yawning. There are several muscles attached to and surrounding the temporomandibular joint which control the joint’s position and movement.
Problems with the temporomandibular joint commonly result in pain, difficulty chewing and eating and difficulty opening/closing the mouth. Often, these disorders are incorrectly called TMJ, for temporomandibular joint.
Physical therapy is a conservative treatment approach that focuses on reducing pain and restoring normal function. Early physical therapy intervention can stop the progression of TMD and prevent chronic pain syndromes.
Who Can Be Helped?
- Patients who experience pain or tenderness in the face, jaw, and neck when swallowing, chewing, biting, speaking, shouting, or yawning.
- Patients with a limited ability to open the mouth or a jaw that gets “stuck” or “locked” in the open or closed mouth position.
- Patients with clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the temporomandibular joint when opening or closing the mouth.
- Patients with earaches, ear pain with chewing, ear stuffiness or ringing.
- Patients with chronic recurrent headaches.
How Physical Therapy Can Help with TMD?
Physical therapy is a conservative treatment approach that focuses on reducing pain and restoring normal function. Early physical therapy intervention can stop the progression of TMD and prevent chronic pain syndromes. Benefits include pain relief, decreased jaw and neck muscle spasm, decreased joint inflammation, restoration of normal jaw/neck range of motion, and improved jaw function during chewing, biting and speaking.
Physical Therapy Treatment of the Temporomandibular Joint
Treatment programs are customized to address each patient’s unique needs. Our specially trained therapists will perform a musculoskeletal evaluation of the temporomandibular joint and the cervical spine to include a complete medical history, functional limitations, postural assessment, active and passive joint range of motion testing, palpation, resistive isometric movements, cranial nerve assessment, joint play movements, and special tests as indicated.
Based on the findings of the evaluation, the therapist will initiate a specific treatment plan that might include:
- Manual techniques such as soft tissue massage, joint mobilization and cervical traction.
- Posture correction and education.
- Gentle stretching and range of motion exercises.
- Stress management techniques.
- Home exercises.
- Modalities to include heat, ice, electrical stimulation, biofeedback or ultrasound.