What is a TMJ disorder?

Published: Monday, October 30, 2023
Paul Turner
Physical Therapist

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects the jawbone to the skull. TMJ disorders, also known as TMD, can cause pain and discomfort in the jaw, face, neck, and shoulders. They can even lead to headaches and difficulty chewing. Physical therapists often see patients with TMJ disorders. We are breaking down the common causes, symptoms, and treatment options for TMJ disorders.

What are symptoms of TMJ disorders?

The symptoms of TMJ disorders can vary, but commonly include: 

  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw, face, or neck 
  • Clicking or popping sounds when opening and closing the mouth 
  • Difficulty chewing or biting 
  • Headaches or earaches 
  • Limited jaw movement or locking of the jaw 
  • Swelling or stiffness in the face 

What are the causes of TMJ disorders?

There is no single cause of TMJ disorders, but several factors can contribute to their development. These include: 

  • Jaw injury or trauma 
  • Teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism) 
  • Arthritis or other joint disorders 
  • Poor posture or neck and shoulder tension 
  • Stress and anxiety 

What are the treatment options for TMJ disorders?

There are several treatment options for TMJ disorders, and the right approach will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Physical therapists at Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) focus on developing a personalized treatment plan that includes: 

  • Manual therapy: Manual therapy techniques, such as Dry Needling, massage, and joint mobilization, can help to relieve muscle tension and improve joint function in the jaw and surrounding areas. 
  • Exercise: Exercises that target the jaw and surrounding muscles can help to improve jaw mobility and reduce pain. 
  • Posture correction: Poor posture and tension in the neck and shoulders can contribute to TMJ disorders, so correcting posture and improving neck and shoulder mobility can help to reduce symptoms. 
  • Relaxation techniques: Stress and anxiety can contribute to TMJ disorders, so incorporating relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help to reduce tension and improve symptoms. 
  • Bruxism management: If teeth grinding or clenching is contributing to TMJ disorders, wearing a mouthguard or undergoing dental procedures to correct the bite can be effective in managing symptoms. 

In summary, TMJ disorders can be complex and multifactorial, but with proper treatment and management, many patients can find relief from their symptoms. If you are experiencing symptoms of a TMJ disorder, consult with a healthcare professional or licensed physical therapist to develop a personalized treatment plan. 

For more information about physical therapy at NGMC, visit nghs.com/rehabilitation-services.