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TMJ Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and What To Do To Get Relief


What Causes TMJ

TMJ, sometimes referred to as TMD, stands for temporomandibular joint disorder. TMJ refers to dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint in your jaw, the jaw muscles, and any nerves contributing to pain in the face and jaw. TMJ can be caused by several different mechanisms including: injury to teeth or jaw, misalignment (malalignment) of the teeth or joints in the jaw, poor posture leading to positional issues of the jaw and teeth, stress, excessive chewing of gum, and grinding teeth.

How Do You Diagnose TMJ

There are no specific tests for TMJ but through a report of your medical history, signs and symptoms, and physical exam a reliable diagnosis can easily be made. TMJ / TMD Is commonly diagnosed by dentists, ENTs (ear, nose, and throat specialists), and physical therapists. Patients commonly report pain and/or clicking in the jaw, pain in the jaw or lateral face (many times just below the ear and over your lateral face where the joint is), locking in the jaw, and have changes in the ease of opening and/or closing the jaw, or the jaw does not open in a straight line when you open your mouth.  Determining the actual cause of the pain is typically just a little harder to diagnose as there are many things that can cause your issues.  That’s where a detailed hands on exam comes in and is able to determine the specific cause of your jaw’s movement and pain issues.

How Do You Treat TMJ

When treating TMJ you have to realize there are treatments for symptoms and treatments to fix the cause of your issues.  You likely will need both.  For long lasting relief the 1st thing is to determine the cause of the pain and treat the cause, not just the symptoms.  Without treating the cause we are only temporarily relieving the pain.  While this is still important it won’t get you the lasting results you are looking for.  However, many times in order to get to the cause you have to get the pain down first so your body will allow lasting changes to happen.  There are a lot of treatments out there that are addressing the symptoms of TMJ, which can be helpful to decrease the pain, to then allow patients to work on treatments that address the true cause.

To Help With The Management of TMJ Symptoms

Ice or heat; NSAIDs; self massage; bite guard or splint; eating soft foods

Physical therapy For TMJ To Determine And Treat the Root Cause 

Using skilled hands-on techniques (manual therapy) we can increase the movement of the jaw and relieve pain in tissues and joints of the face and neck. This can include elements of massage, soft tissue work, joint mobilization, and more.  Dry needling can also be performed, which is the insertion of a small needle in the outside muscles of the face and neck to help reduce balled up and tender muscles and pain which will allow them to relax and move better and easier. Myofascial release for TMJ works on the soft tissue structures of the face, neck, head to release tension, decrease pain, and allow better movement. Joint mobilizations for TMJ are skilled passive movements to the joints of the face and neck to help to improve mobility of the jaw, neck, allow for better positioning of the jaw and better posture of the head, neck, and jaw, and decrease pain. Exercises for TMJ need to be specific exercises to assist with improving joint mobility and strengthen the appropriate muscles to allow for improved jaw mechanics.  In addition to exercises for the jaw, exercises for the neck and back may allow for better positioning of the head and neck which puts the jaw in a better position that is less likely to aggravate the temporomandibular joint.

Why Should I Seek Treatment for TMJ

The pain and distractions of TMJ can be very limiting to someone’s ability to complete their daily activities.  Even many things many of us take for granted such as eating.  Prolonged TMJ can lead to changing movement patterns in the jaw and neck due to trying to avoid the pain which could lead to further pain and problems not only in the jaw, but other areas of the body such as the head, neck, and shoulders and cause headaches as well. 

Who Should I See For TMJ

A dentist or ENT can help with creation of bite guards or splints. But to address the joints, muscles, posture, and get exercises to strengthen the muscles you will need to see a physical therapist.  You should be trying to find a physical therapist that understands TMJ and can help you restore proper jaw and neck mechanics. Then if a bite guard or other procedures are still needed the foundation of jaw/neck mechanics will be in a better position to be treated. 

If I Don’t Get Help (Treatment) Will My TMJ Get Worse?

Unfortunately the answer is most likely yes. If you have already searched and found this article because you are in pain or having TMJ and jaw issues you have likely had this for a while now.  That means this isn’t getting better on it’s own.  Typically due to the pain and/or jaw dysfunction TMJ sufferers will continue to develop improper patterns of movement as long as the underlying issues are still there. This can also lead to secondary limitations like neck pain and lack of range of motion and very frequently headaches. 

Will TMJ Go Away?

The good news is that with treatment for most people the answer is yes. But there are some more complicated cases that might not fully resolve. But even in these cases with PT, home exercises, (and maybe a bite guard) TMJ will be limiting you less in your daily life.  It doesn’t take a long time with treatment to start seeing some results.   If your TMJ issues will not fully resolve, a good physical therapist should be able to pull in additional specialists and resources to help you get the maximum benefit and relief for your individual needs. 

How To Get Rid of TMJ Fast?

1st: Decrease activities that cause acute pain such as eating hard food or chewing gum. Get a bite guard if you are grinding your teeth. 2nd: If you have stress in your life, which most of us do, working on decreasing or managing it better will help decrease the tension in the jaw. Examples: diaphragmatic breathing exercises (breathing from and into your lower abdomen), mediation, working out, and journaling can all help. 3rd: This One is the MOST IMPORTANT! Find a good physical therapist to help improve your jaw and neck mechanics, address the restricted soft tissues and joints, and help strengthen the weak ones. 1st and 2nd strategies above can help with the pain and help the PT exercises be more effective but they do not get to the root cause. 4th: Dentists for bite guards or orthodontics are sometimes helpful.  In some more rare cases if needed- injections and botox may help

What Is The Most Effective Treatment For TMJ?

Hands on skilled treatment (dry needling, myofascial release and soft tissue massage, joint mobilization) and posture education are the most effective to make the changes needed to get relief.  Exercises to help strengthen the muscles will help once these changes have been made. 

How Long Does It Take For TMJ to Go Away?

This will depend on the length of time you have been suffering. A more acute (recent)  onset will improve more quickly, many times around 2-3 weeks with treatment. With modification of activities that irritate the jaw and a couple of PT sessions to help to improve the muscles and joints around the jaw and neck you should start to see quick results. For those that have been suffering for longer the issue is most likely more involved such as some muscle tightening and joint changes and more joint dysfunction present.  This can take months to years depending on the level of dysfunction, as well as your ability to make changes in habits, strength, posture, and exercises. In some cases the best solution is continued management of symptoms but the goal of PT is try our best to get to the root cause, get rid of the symptoms, and get you back to the life you deserve.

 If you would like even more information on TMJ and how to change your jaw pain please feel free to download our Free Ebook by clicking the book below:

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We Help People In Denver Quickly Recover From Pain Or Injury So They Can Stay Active In Their Favorite Sport/Hobby, Continue Exercising, And Get Back To What They Love To Do.


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