Clicking and popping of the jaw is a common symptom reported for those with temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD). This blog will help shed some light on why this occurs and what you can do about it.
Should I be concerned about clicking in my TMJ?
To start, you can have mild clicking in your TMJ that is otherwise benign. It may be annoying, but if is it stable and nonpainful, you can go about our life without paying too much attention to it. Is it “normal” for the joint to do this? Not necessarily, however just like any other joint that my click and pop, there are many natural reasons for this such as hypermobility/ligament laxity or natural degeneration over time.
The click and pop can develop further though, into something we call a disc dysfunction . The clicking occurs because the disc that sits in between the two bones of the TMJ is moving around more than it should. The clicking becomes an issue when that disc is too far out of place and is now either causing pain or is affecting the movements of your jaw, or both.
Therefore, it is always good to do preventative work, and at the end of the day, I always recommend getting screened by a trained practitioner to determine the extent of your potential disc displacement. Often without imaging, the severity of your disc displacement and the best course of action can be discerned with a thorough physical therapy examination.
If your clicking is painful and/or you notice your jaw has started deviating to the side, then it is highly recommended that you be evaluated by a TMJ specialist.
What causes TMJ clicking?
Like I mentioned above, between the 2 bones of the TMJ sits a fibrocartilaginous disc that naturally moves and glides with mouth opening. Dysfunction arises when it slips out of our place (most often gets stuck forward) and this system is no longer moving in harmony when trying to open your mouth. The severity of the disc dislocation, along with other factors, determines when you’ll hear the click, the amount of pain associated, if/when your jaw will deviate to the side, and any limitations in how much you can open your mouth.
Mild TMJ clicking is usually just an annoying disturbance that is otherwise harmless, however you do not want it to progress and put the disc at risk for further degeneration.
What should I do about my TMJ clicking?
From the PT perspective, it is especially important to address why the clicking is happening in the first place for each specific individual. For example, whether that is from hypermobility, myofascial restrictions affecting TMJ mobility, and/or other mechanical contributors like chronic poor posture. TMJD often is best resolved with a collaborative effort of TMJ specialists including a dentist, massage therapist, counselor, etc. Each plan of care is case dependent, but most disc dysfunction cases I’ve managed were successfully treated by means of physical therapy. We use hands on/manual techniques including dry needling and exercises for disc recapturing and postural restoration. At the very least, having an evaluation by a TMJ PT will help determine the severity of your TMJ clicking and offer advice on preventative measures or tips to resolve the issue.
If interested about TMJ physical therapy, contact our office via or email our TMJ specialist directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about if TMJ PT is for you!
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