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TMJ/TMD Explained and How Physical Therapy Can Help

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tmj - TMJ/TMD Explained and How Physical Therapy Can Help

The TMJ (temporomandibular joint) is located on either side of your jaw just in front of your ears. TMD stands for temporomandibular joint dysfunction, which can include many different causes for impairments in this region. It may sound surprising that physical therapy can help this condition, but it can!

Of course, dentists, oral surgeons, PCPs, chiropractors, massage therapists, counselors, etc. may also be a part of your medical team, but physical therapy can play a critical role in either prevention or healing certain TMD issues. Most TMJ cases for physical therapy are referred by dentists and/or ENTs. 

For starters, the TMJ is a joint just like anywhere else in the body, just on a smaller scale and closely related to many nearby structures in the neck/face adding to its intricacies. From a physical therapy standpoint, we can use manual therapy techniques including dry needling to help address the soft tissue and joint mobility restrictions associated with the jaw. There are also specific TMJ exercises to help reinforce any changes made with manual therapy and to help improve your jaw ROM and control – especially for those with hypermobile joints.

Addressing postural contributions and discussing stress management often play a part in treatment for TMD as well. 

TMD symptoms can be from congenital abnormalities in the jaw, trauma to the jaw/face, degeneration, or developed as a result of clenching/grinding and other parafunctional habits. Most TMJ issues are a result of a bony/disc issue or from a myofascial/muscular dysfunction. 

Common symptoms that may be associated with TMD include:

  • clicking/popping of jaw with opening
  • clenching/grinding of the teeth
  • jaw fatigue or tension
  • abnormal bite alignment
  • jaw feels loose and/or jaw locks
  • pain in jaw or ear
  • ear fullness or ringing
  • headaches, neck pain.

These symptoms can be associated with many other things as well, which is why it is important to be evaluated appropriately to find the source of your symptoms. Physical therapists who treat TMJ work closely with dentists, especially if the patient has or needs a custom splint. We also work with oral surgeons to help either prevent surgery or assist a patient with post-op recovery including arthrocentesis, any tie back or anchoring of the disc procedure, and TMJ replacement. Your TMJ symptoms may be more muscular in origin, in which case, skilled manual therapy by a physical therapist may be your best option!

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it may be in your best interest to consult a PT at Atlanta PT for an evaluation to either get your plan of care started or lead you in the right direction for your symptoms!

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