TMJ - Jaw/Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

TMJ Pain and Physical Therapy

Did you know that neck and shoulder pain or stiffness can play a role in TMJ disorders? If you are suffering with TMJ problems, stop for a moment to consider that the muscles of the neck and shoulders are connected to the jaw. If you have chronic stiffness or misalignment in your neck, shoulders, or upper back, it can directly affect the function of your jaw joints.

Symptomatic TMJ dysfunction affects 28% of the adult population. Approximately 80 million people in the U.S. suffer from some form of TMJ disorder. Many people go to their dentist or orthodontist to treat TMJ with dental work or a dental appliance. But if you additionally have pain, stiffness, or misalignment in your neck, shoulders, or upper back you may want to consider getting some physical therapy to help treat the problem. Physical therapy will teach you how to improve your posture and joint motion, decrease muscle tension, and strengthen your neck and jaw. Physical therapy, along with dental treatment, may greatly improve your situation.

An experienced physical therapist can perform a comprehensive evaluation of your TMJ, neck, thoracic spine and shoulder girdle to determine the structures causing TMJ symptoms. Based on those findings, the PT will implement a plan to treat your underlying biomechanical problems. Not all physical therapists are experienced in treating TMJ, so you need to search for the right practitioner. Start with your dentist, primary care provider, orthodontist, oral surgeon, or orthopedist -- they can often refer you to someone appropriate.

Symptoms and Causes of TMJ Disorder

People with TMJ disorder usually have some or all of the following symptoms:

  • jaw and facial pain with tension
  • neck tension/pain
  • problems with "sitting activities," such as working at the computer or reading
  • problems chewing, swallowing, opening your mouth, or yawning
  • jaw cracking and popping
  • mid-back stiffness, tension, and/or pain
  • ear pain
  • headaches
  • toothaches
  • difficulty turning your head

TMJ disorder can be caused by misaligned teeth, poor dental work, incorrect swallowing habits, teeth clenching and/or grinding, trauma, and degenerative disease. Your dentist, or a dentist who specializes in TMJ can tell you whether your problem can be corrected with dental work or a dental appliance. Be sure to tell your dentist if you experience chronic neck and shoulder pain, so he/she can evaluate whether physical therapy may additionally help treat your TMJ problem.

TMJ Treatment with Physical Therapy

When you come in for physical therapy evaluation and treatment, you can expect your therapist to analyze your upper body and jaw to determine what factors are contributing to your pain. Joint and soft tissue work will be performed to help release muscle and joint tension in the head, neck and shoulder region. Once your therapist gets your neck and jaw joints moving appropriately again, strengthening and stabilizing exercises are prescribed to maintain the new position of the TMJ. These exercises can include upper back and neck strengthening and relaxation techniques to correct postural alignment, range of motion exercises to promote jaw mobility and isometric holding exercise to strengthen the TMJ. TMJ symptoms may present differently between patients, so your therapist will prescribe treatment that is specifically tailored to your needs.

For questions, please call the Dental Clinic at 706-542-8700 and/or the Physical Therapy Clinic at 706-542-8634.