The TMJ is located just in front of the ears on each side of your face, where the jaw meets the skull. The joint is supported by a number of muscles, cartilage, ligaments and an intra-joint disk that allows the joint to move and adapt to a variety of motions.
Jaw pain and clicking can come from any one of these structures, but most commonly the pain comes from the muscles around the joint or abnormal stress or degenerative changes to the small disk in the joint during opening and closing. Posture, neck mobility and muscle balance around the jaw and neck play an important role in proper function of the joint.
- Jaw discomfort or soreness (often most prevalent in the morning or late afternoon)
- Pain radiating behind the eyes, in the face, shoulder, neck, and/or back
- Earaches or ringing in the ears (not caused by an infection of the inner ear canal)
- Clicking or popping of the jaw
- Locking of the jaw and Clenching or grinding of the teeth
- Sensitivity of the teeth without the presence of an oral health disease
- Numbness or tingling sensation in the fingers
Physical Therapy and TMJ
- strengthen jaw muscles
- stretch the jaw
- relax the jaw
- increase jaw mobility
- reduce jaw clicking
- promote jaw healing
Posture Education: If you sit with your head in an increased forward position, you are placing greater strain on the muscles beneath your chin, causing the lower jaw to pull back and the mouth to be in an open position even when resting, increasing stress on the TMJ. You also might be overworking the jaw muscles to force the jaw closed so your mouth isn’t open all the time. Your physical therapist will teach you to be aware of your posture so that you can improve the resting position of your jaw, head, neck, breastbone, and shoulder blades when you’re sitting and walking.
Improving Jaw Movement Physical therapists use skilled hands-on techniques (manual therapy) to gently increase movement and relieve pain in tissues and joints. Your physical therapist may use manual therapy to stretch the jaw in order to restore normal joint and muscle flexibility or break up scar tissues (“adhesions”) that sometimes develop when there is constant injury.
- Your physical therapist will teach you special “low-load” exercises that don’t exert a lot of pressure on your TMJ, but can strengthen the muscles of the jaw and restore a more natural, pain-free motion
- Special Pain Treatments.If your pain is severe, your physical therapist may provide treatments, such as laser, electrical stimulation or ultrasound to reduce it.
Effectiveness of Laser in TMJ
Studies suggest that laser is effective in reducing pain and inflammation in TMJ especially the long lasting ones. Specifically it uses light therapy to stimulate healing of muscles and tissue. When the light hits a targeted area, it stimulates cell growth and increased blood flow. One of its known benefits is that it works as a subsequent release on tense joint tissue.
Some benefits of laser therapy are:
- Immediate relief by reducing muscle inflammation
- Promotes healing by increasing oxygen and blood flow to affected tissues
- No negative side-effects
- Each procedure is quick, lasting under 10 minutes