What’s causing that jaw pain?
If you ever had jaw pain, you will know how uncomfortable it is. A pain that stops you from eating anything that’s not blended isn’t much fun. A TMJ Physiotherapist may be able to help.
The temporo-mandibular joint (or TMJ) is made up of 2 bones the mandible and temporal, both having round surfaces mated together with a disc in between.
You might be wondering why two round surfaces? Wouldn’t it be very unstable…well that is true, but if you think about it when you yawn, eat, chew and talk, the jaw has to be very mobile. The downside to this is that the TMJ can get messed up very easily. When you have bad teeth, grinding habits, poor bite patterns, neck or posture issues the joint and disc can get very angry.
Check out what exactly happens when you open and close your mouth.
So what are the signs of temporo-mandibular pain?
- Shifting, clicking, clunking or locking of the jaw
- Pain localised in the jaw joint or diffuse pain around the side of the head or neck
- Mouth feels tight when opening or unable to open fully
- Headache around the temples or side of head
- Jaw doesn’t appear midline / asymmetry of the face
- Ear aches
So what are the different types of TMJ pain?
- Myogenic or muscle related, when there is weakness, tightness or there is poor control of the jaw muscles. When there is tightness the jaw will get pulled towards that side. When there is weakness or poor control the jaw won’t open and close like it should.
- Arthrogenic or joint/disc related, when the disc does not glide normally when opening or closing the mouth. The disc can shift out of place “sublux” or dislocate causing locking issues. In other words it feels like the disc rides over a speed hump when opening or closing the mouth creating a click or clunk.
- Growth issues: where there is uneven jaw growth issues causing one side to be asymmetric.
What causes it?
In most cases there are a few factors that often lead to jaw problems. An expert in jaw pain can explain which ones you have after doing an assessment. Some common examples are:
- Chewing gum too much; making the chewing muscles overworked and tight.
- Poor jaw development when growing up
- Incorrect myofunctional habits – mouth breathing, open mouth postures, biting your lips, chewing nails / pencils
- Holding your head tilted too much such as playing the piano or always on the phone
- Resting your hand on one side of your face – you are putting pressure on your TMJ and squashing your disc.
- Sleeping on your jaw – again you are putting pressure on your disc.
- Poor posture affecting the neck
- Grinding your teeth during sleep (can be from stress and anxiety or poor teeth contact points)
- Dental issues
- Poor bite pattern
TMJ physiotherapist can help.
The first step is identifying and addressing the factors above. A TMJ physiotherapist can provide treatment to restore normal muscle and joint function such as:
- Functional massage of the jaw muscles: temporalis, masseter, lateral and medial pterygoids
- Correction of neck posture
- Trigger point release techniques
- Manual therapy techniques: joint traction, compression
- Motor control training
- Mobilisation with movement
- Acupuncture to relax tight muscles, read our post acupuncture/dry needling to find out how it works!
- Corrective exercise for imbalanced / dysfunctional jaw muscles
- Self – massage and self stretching techniques for you to do at home
Typically you should get less pain or improved opening ability from the first physio session. We will let you know if you may need to also see a dentist for further intervention such as getting custom fitted splints or making adjustments to the surface of your teeth ensuring they fit well against one another.
TMJ pain is awful, but you don’t have to suffer forever! When you visit us at Evolution Health Clinic we will provide options for treating and correcting your jaw. Speak with one of our TMJ physiotherapist and live a better you today.
Leave us a comment below if you suffer from jaw pain and what you have done to help ease it.
Author: Colin Sau (Principal Physiotherapist, Evolution Health Clinic)