Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ, TMD)
The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is a hinged joint that connects the jawbone to the temporal bones of the skull. People have one on each side of their jaw, in front of each ear. The TMJ guides jaw movement and allows it to move jup and down and side-to-side, so people can talk, chew and yawn.
A TMJ disorder, also known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD), is a problem with one or more parts of the jaw joint and/or the muscles that control jaw movement. More than 10 million people in the United States are affected by TMJ disorders. But, no one knows the exact cause, but a hard blow to the jaw or whiplash can lead to TMDs. Other causes can include:
- Some people grind their teeth or clench their jaw (bruxism) when they are stressed. Others may do it in their sleep. This puts a lot of pressure on the joint.
- Displacement of the disc between the ball and socket of the jaw joint, which can cause popping or clicking in the jaw and/or pain.
- Arthritis in the TMJ.
- Poor dental health.
- Injury to the teeth.
- Misaligned jaw/fractured jaw.
- Misalighed teeth (malocclusion).
- Poor posture.
Symptoms can include:
- Jaw Clicking/Popping
- Ear Pain/Popping Sounds in Ears
- Difficulty Opening Mouth to Eat or Talk
- Headaches (typically in temple area)
- Stiff/sore Jaw Muscles or Jaw Fatigue
- Locking of Jaw (trismus)
- Neck Pain
TMJ Disorder Treatment
Home remedies such as ice packs to the jaw joint; over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Aleve®; avoid chewing gum and massage or gentle stretches of the jaw and neck.
For TMJ disorders that do not respond to home remedies, give physical therapy a try. Physical therapy has proven to be effective at treating TMJ disorders. Treatment includes hands-on manual therapy to gently increase movement and relieve pain or breaking up scare tissue (adhesions) that sometimes develop as a result of an injury or surgery. Physical therapists may also use electrical stimulation or ultrasound to reduce pain. For TMJ orders caused by teeth alignment problems, your physical therapist may refer you to a dentist specializing in TMJ disorders.