The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) refers to the joint on each side of the head in front of the ears, which connects the jawbone to the upper skull. It allows for chewing, talking and yawning. Similar to any other joint in the body, it can be strained or injured, thus causing pain and tenderness. Poor oral habits and other causes, such as arthritis, can also contribute to jaw problems.
Symptoms and Treatment of Temporomandibular Disorders
Some of the common symptoms of TMD include pain and tenderness in the jaw, ear and/or facial region, pain or difficulty with chewing, locking of the joint with limited opening or closing of the mouth and headaches. If the symptoms persist, it is important to be evaluated by a doctor or dentist. Most cases of TMD can be treated with self-management of symptoms or non-surgical treatments. In some cases, dental or surgical treatment may be indicated.
Physical therapy is well recognized as an effective conservative treatment for TMD. If physical therapy is recommended, an evaluation will be performed by a physical therapist to determine the appropriate treatment plan and techniques to be utilized. The goals of treatment include reduction in pain and headache, decreased inflammation and restoration of normal mobility and function of the jaw and neck muscles. Education in self-management, including posture correction and changing poor oral habits, such as chewing gum, is essential. Instruction in a home exercise program is provided to improve range of motion, promote jaw relaxation and increase muscle strength, coordination and stabilization of the TMJ. Finally, heat, cold and/or massage may also be used to help facilitate healing and speed the overall recovery of TMD.
Physical therapists at Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology often identify and treat temporomandibular disorders as a component of a patient’s comprehensive headache evaluation and rehabilitation program.