Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMD) and the Role of Physical Therapy

A few months ago, I encountered a patient suffering from temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD), a condition affecting the primary joint responsible for opening and closing the mouth. Her condition had progressively worsened over the past three years with symptoms so severe she could no longer chew without pain. In the mornings, she reported her jaw felt so stiff she struggled to brush her teeth comfortably. Her pain had even stopped her from going out to eat; she was embarrassed to be the only one left at the table due to her inability to chew her food in a timely manner.

Stories like this are all too common for those living with TMD. Not only did this patient's symptoms limit her in everyday activities but also affected her social life and self-esteem. The good news is - TMD can be treated!

Approximately 50% of all cases of TMD are the result of pain/tightness in muscles used to open and close the jaw. (1) Why is this important? Muscle pain and joint restriction can be managed with physical therapy. Reduction in tone of the muscles of mastication (AKA chewing muscles) and mobility improvements in the TMJ can easily reduce one's pain and improve one's ability to eat, speak, and perform everyday activities without pain.

I often get asked by patients, "How do I know if the pain I'm experiencing is related to my TMD?" Here are a few questions that are suggestive of TMD and may warrant an intervention from your physical therapist:

  1. Does your jaw click when you open or close your mouth?
  2. Does your jaw deviate to one side, either temporarily or throughout opening?
  3. Do you have tenderness in your jaw?

If you are experiencing facial, jaw, and/or neck pain and answered yes to any of these questions, you could be suffering from TMD. Don't be discouraged, the right physical therapist is equipped with the skills necessary to treat your individual needs and help you manage your condition. If you're looking for a solution, give me a call. I'd be happy to take a look.

Temporomandibular Joint | TMJ

Brendan Glackin, DPT, CSCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

References:

  1. Marbach JJ, Lipton JA: Treatment of patients with temporomandibular joint and other facial pain by otolaryngologists. Arch Otolaryngol 108:102-107, 1982.