Jaw pain? Physiotherapy can help.

Although physiotherapists are getting more referrals from dentists, many people are not aware that physiotherapy is capable of treating a wide range of symptoms caused by a dysfunction of the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ). Common symptoms are local jaw pain, clicking jaw, and muscle tension around the jaw.

Anatomy of the TMJ

The TMJ is a more complex structure compared to our other joints in our body because of the interaction among the disc and a good amount of muscles, ligaments, the jaw and skull bones. Furthermore, it is supplied by blood vessels and a large number of nerves, which makes it sensitive to pain.

What can cause a TMJ problem?

Disorders in this joint rarely occur as a single symptom, but more often as multiple problems with overlapping symptoms. Usually, the pain, tension and degeneration are caused by anatomical features. But pain can also occur after a period of teeth grinding, bite problems or even having to open the mouth for a long period of time at the dentist. A history of trauma, such as a hit on the face or head can also have an effect on the jaw.

How can physiotherapy help?

The TMJ can be affected by several factors – the position of our head, the cervical spine, the hyoid bone and our posture are often responsible for a TMJ dysfunction. A specialized therapist will assess the TMJ together with it’s surrounding structures, the cervical spine, the shoulder girdle and will analyze the posture of the patient. The tongue, mouth and facial functions will also be assessed to get a clear view of the actual cause of the jaw pain or referred pain.

Depending on the diagnosis a physiotherapist has several treatment options. Treatment options include soft tissue release and trigger point therapy to decrease the tension of the jaw, facial and neck muscles, mobilization techniques to decrease pain and help the TMJ joint to move correctly.

Advice on the right posture and home exercises are essential to strengthening the weakened muscles and to assist on the right alignment. Most patients will experience an improvement with TMJ physiotherapy. Lasting improvement, however, will depend on staying in the right posture and being disciplined in doing the home exercises.

After knowing what are the causes of jaw pains and how physiotherapy can help, here is a short video that demonstrates the interaction between the lower jaw and the skull in the TMJ (Temporomandibular joint) with an explanation on the possible causes of jaw pain.

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