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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick Thompson, PT, DPT, OCS, Dip. Osteopractic

Physical Therapy for TMJ Pain and Jaw Pain?! Since When!?

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

TMJ Pain is associated with both headaches and neck pain
Life's too short to not be able to smile!

What if I told you that a night guard is just a band-aid? What if I told you that botox doesn't correct the problem? What if I told you that it doesn't have to hurt to smile, talk, sing, yawn, and even kiss!

The TMJ isn't as much as a mystery as it seems to be, but unfortunately the most common treatment strategies from the standard healthcare model seem to focus on band-aid approaches and symptom chasing.

TMJ pain doesn't have to be just isolated at the jaw, it can also present towards the eye, temporal area (above the ear), towards the chin - as well as - headache, neck pain, earache, toothache, and even vertigo.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's start at the beginning, shall we? What the heck is the TMJ?! Well its right there in the name - it is the TemporoMandibular Joint. Further breaking down to, the Joint between the Temporal bone (side of the skull - above the ear), and the Mandible (the bottom jaw bone).

Well, why does it hurt and why does it click? Just like any joint in the body, it can become irritated or the structures can sustain damage for a variety of reasons. These reasons can range from blunt trauma to the jaw, over stretching of the joint capsule, stress, jaw clinching, sustained over-chewing, or grinding the teeth at night (among many other causes).

Without getting too deep into the weeds on the joint structure, because that can be quite the boring read, let's talk about how the joint moves and functions. To keep it very short, when you open your mouth, the TMJ needs to both roll backwards and glide forwards with the assistance of the disc and many muscles. This sequence of events that creates jaw opening, jaw closing, chin forwards, chin backwards, chin to the right, and chin to the left needs to happen in a very precise order for the joint to function correctly.

If the disc is "slipping out and back in," then you may hear a painless click. If the disc is "slipping and maybe not returning to the proper position," then your jaw may become stuck. Lastly, if your chewing muscles are becoming more painful and tender to touch, then the muscles may be involved.

Then comes the pesky headaches and neck pain. Because to further complicate the issue, there is a strong connection between neck issues, headaches, and TMJ pain. This is evident because the topmost neck vertebra connects to the base of the skull - just like the TMJ. This means the function and position of the neck will directly affect the function and position of the TMJ. This joint position then directly affects the many muscles responsible for chewing, talking, smiling, singing, and more! These are just a few of the many reasons we perform a thorough 60 minute patient evaluation to determine the true root cause of your pain and symptoms.

If the TMJ is just a symptom of your existing neck issue, then botox will not fix the joint position.

If stress is the root of you teeth grinding while you sleep (bruxism), then a night guard will not fix the problem.

If forward head posture, due to prolonged computer work, is the secret reason for poor jaw muscle strength/function, then food avoidance won't fix the problem.

Once the true underlying cause of your TMJ symptoms is understood, then our hands-on physical therapy treatments are significantly more focused and directed - resulting in fast pain relief, less clicking, and improved jaw range of motion (sometimes requiring only 1 session!).

At Flow Physical Therapy and Wellness in The Woodlands, TX, we believe in getting to the root cause of your symptoms during the first session. This means taking a deep dive into your full symptom presentation AND understanding the many other diagnoses that can mimic your presentation.

If you're tired of being offered band-aids and temporary solutions that may or may not be addressing the true source of your symptoms, then give us a call and lets have a chat about how manual based physical therapy may be the missing link to your TMJ Pain.

Dr. Patrick Thompson, PT, DPT, OCS, Cert. DN

Owner of Flow Physical Therapy and Wellness


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