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Written By Greg Specht

Do you frequently experience jaw pain, headaches, or difficulty eating? You might be suffering from temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) – an issue with the jaw joint and surrounding muscles. A physical therapist can help diagnose TMJ and provide relief by creating a personalized treatment plan that includes lifestyle adjustments, hands-on therapy, and exercises.

What Is TMJ Disorder?

The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull (temporal bone) and is responsible for the movement of your jaw. TMJ disorder occurs when dysfunction or misalignment occurs in this joint, leading to pain, inflammation, and limited jaw movement. This disorder can be temporary or chronic, with symptoms potentially lasting for years.

What Causes TMJ Disorder and What Are the Symptoms?

Several factors can contribute to the development of TMJ disorder. Some common causes include the following:

  • Injury or trauma to the jaw
  • Teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism)
  • Arthritis in the joint
  • Stress and anxiety, which causes muscle tension in the jaw
  • Misalignment of the teeth or jaw
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Overuse of jaw muscles from excessive gum chewing or nail-biting

In addition, TMJ disorder can manifest in various ways. Here are some of the most common symptoms:

  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw, neck, and temples
  • Frequent headaches or migraines
  • Clicking or popping sounds when moving the jaw
  • Difficulty opening or closing the mouth
  • Locking of the jaw
  • Ear Aches or ringing in the ears
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing

How Can Physical Therapy Help Relieve TMJ Symptoms?

Physical therapy effectively addresses TMJ disorder by focusing on reducing pain, improving jaw function, and addressing any underlying issues contributing to the condition. If you have TMJ disorder, the first thing to do is to consult your healthcare provider or a TMJ therapy specialist to receive an accurate diagnosis. Once the condition has been confirmed, a personalized treatment plan can be designed to address your specific needs.

 Here are some of the TMJ therapy techniques used to reduce symptoms:

#1. Mobility and Flexibility Exercises

These exercises are designed to improve the range of motion in your jaw and increase flexibility in the surrounding muscles. You’ll be guided through a series of gentle exercises for the jaw, neck, and face to release tension and reduce inflammation.

#2. Muscle Strengthening Exercises

Restoring balance is essential. A physical therapist will provide specific exercises to strengthen the muscles responsible for stabilizing your jaw, ensuring it functions properly. As these muscles become stronger, the joint’s overall stability should improve, reducing pain and other symptoms.

#3. Manual Therapy

Sometimes, your physical therapist might utilize manual techniques such as soft tissue massage or joint mobilization. These interventions help to restore mobility, decrease muscle tension, and promote healing in the affected area.

#4. Self-Care and Lifestyle Modifications

Aside from exercises and manual therapy, your physical therapist will also work with you to develop a self-care routine that includes proper posture and relaxation techniques. They will help you recognize habits or activities that may exacerbate your TMJ symptoms and advise you on ways to reduce stress.

#5. Posture Correction

Poor posture, especially while sitting or working at a computer, can contribute to TMJ disorder by placing additional strain on your neck and jaw muscles. Your physical therapist will teach you proper posture techniques and may recommend ergonomic adjustments to your workspace to help alleviate stress on your jaw and neck.

#6. Coordination with Other Healthcare Professionals

In some cases, a multidisciplinary approach may be necessary to effectively address all aspects of your TMJ disorder. Your physical therapist may coordinate with other healthcare professionals – such as dentists, orthodontists, or oral surgeons – to ensure you receive comprehensive care tailored to your needs.

What Can You Expect from TMJ Therapy?

At Specht Physical Therapy, our experienced therapists understand the challenges of TMJ disorder. We’ll work closely with you to create a personalized treatment plan to meet your unique needs and goals.

TMJ therapy typically involves several sessions, with the frequency and duration depending on your condition’s severity and progress in therapy. Throughout your treatment, we’ll regularly assess your progress and adjust as needed to ensure you’re on the right track to recovery.

Bottom Line: How Physical Therapy Can Help Alleviate TMJ Symptoms

Dealing with TMJ disorder can be frustrating and painful, but with the right guidance and support from a skilled physical therapist, you can find relief and regain control over your life. When you understand the causes and treatment options available, you’ll be better equipped to manage your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life. So, don’t let TMJ disorder hold you back – reach out to a qualified physical therapist today and take the first step toward a healthier, pain-free future.

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