Jaw Pain Relief
Have you been recently experiencing some pain in your jaw? Is it accompanied by a painful, clicking sound? Have you been finding that your mouth doesn’t seem to open as wide as it once did and that this has been restricting which foods you can eat? If the answer is yes to any of these questions then you should read below for an understanding of how physiotherapy might be able to help you.
What is the TMJ?
You’ll often hear people call the jaw, the “TMJ”. What does this mean and what does it stand for? TMJ is an acronym that means temporomandibular joint. This is the joint between your mandible (jaw bone) and your skull. You can feel for the joint by placing your fingertips just in front of your ear and then opening and closing your mouth. You should feel something pop out into your fingers, this is the head of the mandible that is pressing some of the superficial jaw muscles outwards. The TMJ is right here!
What makes the TMJ unique?
Unlike many other joints in the body, there is actually a small little disc that sits between the head of the mandible and the skull. In TMJ dysfunction this little disc often gets pushed out of position. This then can restrict the movement of the mandible, and thus cause painful and limited opening of your mouth. Sometimes, if the disc is positioned in a certain way it can even cause the mandible to slide to one side when you open your mouth.
What causes TMJ dysfunction?
TMJ dysfunction can often result from tightness in some of the muscles that surround the jaw. Two of the most common muscles to tighten up are the masseter and the temporalis (see photos below). These muscles can get tight for a variety of reasons: stress, a motor vehicle accident, a dental procedure that involves having the mouth open for a long period, chewing too much hard food, even chewing gum too often.
Can the TMJ cause headaches?
Believe it or not, TMJ dysfunction is often a major source of headaches. Many people have had their neck treated only to find that their headaches persist, and only when they receive treatment to relax the jaw muscles, do their headaches resolve.
How do we treat TMJ dysfunction?
Your physiotherapist will determine if your jaw muscles are tight and then likely perform either gentle soft tissue massage or intramuscular stimulation (IMS), which uses fine needles to release trigger points in the affected muscles. Often, the muscles that are the tightest are deep enough that superficial massage and stretching does not work, and IMS is thus necessary. Manual traction of the mandible applied by the physiotherapist, combined with gentle joint glides in specific directions, is often helpful to restore proper alignment of the TMJ disc. Your physiotherapist will also go over some breathing exercises to help you avoid using some of your accessory muscles of breathing (like the trapezius and other neck muscles). If some of these muscles tighten up it can cause your jaw muscles to also tighten up.
Are there any other exercises you can do at home?
Yes! There are a series of 6 exercises that you can perform and we will discuss these in our next blog article!
Many of our physiotherapists at both locations are comfortable treating TMJ dysfunction so don’t feel like you need to keep suffering with that sore jaw.
Registered Physiotherapist, Co-Owner of Thrive Now Physiotherapy