TMD (Jaw Pain)

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) guides jaw movement. Problems with the TMJ are known as temporomandibular joint disorder or dysfunction (TMD).

TMD is very common; more than 10 million people in the United States have it. TMD can be caused by:

  • Bad posture habits. One of the reasons TMD is so common is because many of us spend a great deal of time sitting at a desk, where we often hold our head too far forward as we work. But there are many other kinds of bad posture. Sitting in the car for a long commute, working at a checkout station, cradling a telephone receiver against the same shoulder for long periods of time, always carrying your child on the same hip—all can place the head in an awkward position and cause jaw problems. The “forward head position” puts a strain on the muscles, disk, and ligaments of the TMJ. The jaw is forced to “rest” in an opened position, and the chewing muscles become overused.
  • Chronic jaw clenching at night (“bruxism”). Many people clench their jaws at night while they sleep, usually because of stress. This puts a strain on the TMJ because of the constant strain on the joint and surrounding muscles.
  • Problems with teeth alignment (“malocclusion”). If your teeth come together in an unusual way, greater stress is placed on your TMJ.
  • Surgery. Following surgery to the face and jaw, there may be a loss in mobility and function of the TMJ.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Your physio can help restore the natural movement of your jaw and decrease your pain. If the physio determines that your jaw pain is not related to teeth alignment, the physio will select treatments that will work best for you. Treatments used by physios for TMD include:

Posture education. If your physio finds that you sit with your head in an increased forward position, this means that you are placing a 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, and 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 physio 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.

Improve jaw movement. Physios use skilled hand movements called manual therapy to increase movement and relieve pain in tissues and joints. Your therapist also might use manual therapy to stretch the jaw in order to restore normal joint and muscle flexibility (how supple your muscles are) or break up scar tissues (“adhesions”) that sometimes develop when there is constant injury.

Your physio will teach you special “low-load” exercises—exercises that don’t exert a lot of pressure on your TMJ but that can strengthen the muscles of the jaw and restore a more natural, pain-free motion.

Maintaining good sitting posture is key to preventing TMJ problems. Your physio will show you how to maintain a good sitting posture to prevent future episodes of TMD.

What are the symptoms of TMJ?

Symptoms include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Jaw fatigue
  • Difficulty opening your mouth to eat or talk
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Headache
  • Popping sounds in your jaw
  • Neck pain
  • Locking jaw

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Here’s what some of our patients had to say

I am 100% cured. No more numbness in my fingers. I don’t even need to wear my brace at night anymore. Your recommended equipment and posture changes did the trick. Thanks so much!

five stars Rob, Fort Collins Rob, Fort Collins

Our son was 9+ weeks premature and required physical therapy to help with his gross motor skills. Jessica Albers was our therapist and she was wonderful. She gave us the tools to help our son develop and he is now a very active little two year old. We would recommend Jessica to any parents with…

five stars Aaron Biesemeier Aaron Biesemeier

I was referred to CIM for some calf and Achilles issues a few months after a bad strain. I had the pleasure of working with Derek Haverley to resolve it. Derek took time explaining to me how dry needling could help the situation, the results were amazing. It took about 4-5 sessions of dry needling…

five stars Jill Fox Jill Fox

From the very first treatment with Tim I knew I was on the road to recovery. A combination of dry needling, manipulation, home exercises relieved my chronic leg pain caused by a herniated disk. I was in severe pain and limited mobility for more than 3 years. I’ve had 4 treatments and I’m back on…

five stars Joe Joe

Tim has been helping me deal with various running and cycling injuries for a couple of years. They have included hip, back, calf, and knee issues. The at-home exercises he recommended helped so much, and I am now running and cycling pain free. He also recommended a specific strength training program. I am so grateful…

five stars Sheri Sheri

I was in a horrible car accident and had tried many specialized treatments for pain and pain management for more than a year before it was suggested (by a foot doctor) to have Physical Therapy at CIM. Three months ago I started working with David at the College/Harmony facility. What a difference he has made…

five stars Carol carol

Through a combination of dry needling and exercises, Terry had my lower back pain gone within a few weeks. His approach to care is great — educate the patient, give ’em the necessary tools, and the healing happens.

five stars Chris Ketterman Chris Ketterman

Terry is phenomenal. I’m a runner that has been working on a variety of issues for quite a while and I very recently saw Terry. I’ve had chronic Plantar Fasciitis and Terry has gotten it taken care of. His use of ASTYM has been great and my return to running has been much faster than…

five stars Jim Haselmaier Jim Haselmaier

I worked with John Zapanta this fall for joint pain and had terrific results. I was often amazed with the progress made. John’s personality, talent and enthusiasm regarding my recovery made the process more enjoyable than I would have thought possible. I was impressed that he often would follow up with an e-mail with photos…

five stars Cynthia Coogan Cynthia Coogan

I was referred to Colorado Physical Therapy Specialists and saw John. He was very helpful in easing the pain in my shoulder and gave me exercises to do at home in short increments of time that would fit into my schedule, but would still accomplish the goal. He will listen to any concerns, is very…

five stars Carol Metzner Carol Metzner

Let our qulalified physical therapists help with your TMJ problems.

Schedule an appointment or call us at (970) 221-1201.

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