Health Tips

Temporomandibular Disorders

December 5, 2016

Many people will have Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems at some stage of their life. Some will have pain directly over the jaw joint. Others may have a clicking jaw on opening or closing their mouth. Others may have a locked joint or have difficulty with opening, so that biting into an apple for instance becomes impossible.

The causes of TMJ disorders include dental problems, trauma such as car accidents, sporting injuries where there may be a blow to the jaw, or overuse conditions. An example of overuse may be chronic bruxism (grinding or clenching of the jaw).

Examination by the Physiotherapist will look at the movements of the jaw, such as opening and side-translation. The capsule and ligaments of the joint will be tested to determine which are limiting movement. The muscles will be examined for their strength and flexibility. Consideration is also needed of the cervical spine as it is often involved, causing neck pain, headaches, ear pain or shoulder pain.

Physiotherapy is aimed at restoring a normal painless range of movement of the TMJ, and in some cases the cervical spine. Mobilisation will involve direct pressure/movement of the TMJ to increase its mobility. Other techniques such as stretches of tight ligaments may be very helpful. All these techniques will be applied within the pain limits experienced by the patient. In some instances muscle stretches, massage or ultrasound will be added. A specific home exercise program will help maintain the movement gained at treatment sessions.

It’s advisable to treat temporomandibular joint problems early as they can be resolved. Otherwise they can progress with time and result in deterioration of the joint with ongoing pain, clicking and restriction.