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Your guide to physical therapy treatment for TMJ dysfunction



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Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction is a condition that affects the temporomandibular joint, or the hinge joint that connects your jaw to your skull. This joint allows you to move your jaw up and down, side to side, and forward when you eat, talk and yawn. When things aren’t completely right with this joint, it can cause you to experience pain, hear clicking sounds and have a difficult time moving your jaw. TMJ dysfunction is actually a pretty common problem; it affects an estimated 5% of the population. TMJ dysfunction also impacts women more than men. 

If you’re struggling with TMJ pain, physical therapy can be a powerful tool to help you find relief. Physical therapy has a plethora of modalities and techniques that can be helpful for a variety of conditions. 

Physical therapy treatment options for TMJ dysfunction

Physical therapists are movement experts who are trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions, including TMJ dysfunction. During your initial appointment, they’ll take a detailed history of your symptoms, do a physical exam and may even recommend some imaging tests to get a complete picture. Based on your individual needs and goals for treatment, they will create a personalized treatment plan that may include some of the following:

  • Manual therapy — Manual therapy involves gentle hands-on techniques that can massage, manipulate and stretch targeted tight muscles to improve joint mobility in your jaw, neck and shoulders. 
  • Joint mobilizationJoint mobilization can be thought of as a gentle coaxing of your jaw joint back into its proper position. Your physical therapist will use hands-on techniques to carefully move your jaw joint in different directions to help improve your range of motion, reduce stiffness and decrease pain. 
  • Graston Technique® — This technique uses specially designed stainless steel tools that glide over your skin with specific pressure and friction. The Graston Technique can help break down scar tissue and adhesions that can build up in your soft tissue. This can potentially help improve your circulation and promote healing in the muscles around your jaw. 
  • Myofascial release Myofascial release focuses on using sustained pressure and gentle stretching techniques applied directly to your fascia, which is the connective tissue that surrounds your muscles. When fascia gets tight, it can restrict movement and contribute to pain. By applying sustained pressure and gentle stretches, your physical therapist can help release tension in your fascia. This can help promote flexibility and reduce pain around your jaw joint. 
  • Therapeutic exercises — Therapeutic exercises can include stretches that target the muscles of your jaw, neck and shoulders to help improve flexibility and reduce tightness that may be contributing to your jaw pain. Strengthening exercises can help strengthen the muscles that support your jaw joint, improve stability and prevent future issues. Range-of-motion exercises can gently move your jaw through its full range of motion, helping to restore normal movement and potentially reduce stiffness. Balance and coordination exercises can help improve your overall body awareness and posture, potentially reducing stress on your jaw joint. 
  • Dry needling Dry needling is a technique that involves the insertion of thin, sterile needles into specific tight knots within your muscles called trigger points. These trigger points can send pain signals to other areas, including your jaw. By inserting these needles and gently manipulating them, your physical therapist can help deactivate them. Deactivating trigger points can help reduce pain and improve muscle function. 
  • Class IV laser therapy Class IV laser therapy involves a low-level laser to deliver concentrated light energy directly to the targeted area. It’s painless and works by stimulating cellular repair and reducing inflammation. Class IV laser therapy can help promote healing and potentially reduce pain in your jaw joint.

Common goals of physical therapy for TMJ dysfunction 

The overall goal of physical therapy for TMJ dysfunction is to help improve your quality of life. Here are some common and specific goals your physical therapist may focus on:

  • Reduce pain and inflammation — This is often the primary concern for people with TMJ dysfunction. Physical therapy can help decrease the pain intensity and frequency you’re experiencing and make doing daily activities more comfortable. 
  • Improve jaw mobility — When your jaw moves freely, it allows you to talk, eat and yawn without difficulties. Physical therapy can help to restore your normal range of motion in your jaw joint. 
  • Increase muscle function — Strengthening the muscles that help support your jaw can improve its stability and prevent future issues. 
  • Improve posture — Bad posture can contribute to TMJ dysfunction. Your physical therapist can help you identify postural imbalances and teach you exercises that can help improve your head and neck posture. 
  • Manage stress — Stress can be a common trigger for TMJ pain. Your physical therapist can teach you relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation that can help you manage stress and reduce its impact on your jaw. 
  • Prevent future problems — By addressing the underlying causes of your TMJ dysfunction and learning self-care strategies, physical therapy can help you prevent future flare-ups. 

Physical therapy is a safe and effective treatment option for TMJ dysfunction. By working with a skilled physical therapist, you can find relief from pain, improve your jaw function and get back to enjoying your daily activities. 

Take charge of your TMJ dysfunction with REPAIR SI

At REPAIR SI, we understand the challenges living with TMJ dysfunction can bring. Our skilled physical therapists can help you regain control of your jaw health. Through a personalized treatment plan, your physical therapist can help you address the underlying causes of your TMJ pain and learn self-care strategies for long-term management. This collaborative approach can empower you to reduce pain, improve jaw function and reclaim your quality of life. 

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.