TMJ (the temporomandibular joint) is the joint where your lower jaw connects to the skull. It’s directly in front of the ear and can be tender on a lot of people if you push inwards just in front of the base of your ear. It is much more tender if you tend to clench your jaw, grind your teeth or have had increased stress recently. Some people also have difficulty with popping and locking of their jaw, which involves dysfunction of a disc within the TMJ joint. TMJ has traditionally been treated by dentists and orthodontists, but it is truly incredible how much adding a technique such as myofascial release can really open up the entire system and allow for much better mobility of the TMJ joint as well as all of the surrounding structures.
Many people with TMJ have obtained relief with use of a mouth guard, bite plate or other orthodontic procedures, but sometimes this is not the full solution. If a person is experiencing pain, popping or locking in this joint, it is guaranteed that there is some kind of muscular dysfunction as well. A person will most likely respond more quickly and obtain better relief if they are seeing a physical therapist for muscle and joint work in conjunction with orthodontic procedures. In addition, cranial and facial work just feels really good!
Headaches, migraines and neck pain often accompany TMJ dysfunction as well, and as a physical therapist, I evaluate and treat the entire body, not just one joint. We often find that a postural issue could be stemming from the legs or the pelvis and is affecting things all the way up into the jaw. In this instance, it is unlikely that the TMJ issue will be completely resolved purely with orthodontics.
Depending on the patient’s condition and comfort level, I often also incorporate gentle dry needling at the TMJ area and people have experienced great relief with this combination of MFR (myofascial release), dry needling, joint mobilization, and specific home exercises.
If you or someone you know is experiencing pain, popping or locking in their TMJ or if they just have tightness throughout their jaw, neck pain, headaches and/or teeth grinding, please educate them on the benefits of incorporating physical therapy, especially with a practitioner that practices MFR.