When you injure your shoulder or knee, a physical therapist usually plays an important role throughout your care. What about when you experience jaw pain, clicking, and other symptoms? While TMJ dysfunction may only affect 5-12% of the population, the condition can be painful and self-limiting. Many times TMJ pain and clicking can diminish or go away completely with little or no treatment; however, in some instances, further attention is warranted.
What is TMJ (or TMD)? Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is a dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint, which is the connection of the jaw bone (mandible) to the facial bone (maxilla). The right and left TMJs can be felt when the mouth opens and closes by placing your fingers in front of both ears. TMD symptoms commonly include pain, clicking sounds, and limited mouth opening. Understanding the anatomy of the TMJ is helpful in understanding why some of these symptoms can occur.
Between the mandible and the maxilla lies a cushion-like disk. Occasionally, this disk is out of place in its resting position, usually in front of the joint. In these cases, someone might feel and hear a clicking sound when the mouth opens, and another click when the mouth closes. The first click sound is when the jaw bone moves onto the disk as the mouth opens. The second click occurs as the mouth is closing and the disk again slips in front of the jaw bone. Sometimes, this is a painful condition, other times the click is more of an annoyance.
In addition to displacement of the disk; inflammation of the surrounding muscles, irritation of the joint itself, and restrictions of the cervical spine can all result in TMD. Most symptoms associated with TMD respond favorably to physical therapy treatment. Treatments such as massage to relax tight muscles, mobilizations to improve joint motion, and stabilization exercises for the cervical spine can all help reduce symptoms and improve jaw function.
If you are unsure what to do about your jaw symptoms, an evaluation can help determine if you would benefit from a course of physical therapy care.