Dysfunction of the jaw’s temporomandibular joint (TMJ), such as muscle stiffness, clicking or straining, can cause headaches or create pain in the face, teeth, eyes, ears and neck. Treating the temporomandibular joint through physiotherapy is an effective way to relieve these pains and restore your jaw’s normal functioning.
What is the temporomandibular joint?
The jaw joint, called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), is located on each side of your head, just in front of your ears. It joins the mandible (bone where the lower teeth are attached) to the temporal bone (one of the bones on the side of the skull).
Like any joint, the temporomandibular joint is made up of cartilage at the ends of the bones, ligaments, muscles, tendons and a capsule containing synovial fluid which serves to lubricate the joint. It also has an articular disc, like the one between the vertebrae. This disc is located between the two bones of the joint and helps the jaw’s movements. It is primarily used to increase stability and helps distribute pressure during tasks such as chewing.
What causes jaw pain?
Jaw pain can be caused by a sudden injury, such as a blow to the jaw, a fall on the chin, or a sudden opening/closing of the jaw in a car accident (also called jawlash). This type of accident can lead to inflammation and various injuries to the jaw such as a fracture, dislocation, sprain or muscle spasm.
Jaw pain can also occur over time due to:
- Having poor lifestyle habits such as constantly chewing gum;
- Bruxism (clenching or grinding your teeth);
- Maintaining an improper posture for a long time;
- Bad occlusion of the teeth, i.e. the position in which your upper and lower teeth close;
- Orthodontic treatments that keep the mouth wide open, etc.
A combination of these different factors can lead to muscle tension and contribute to neck or jaw pain, headaches and sometimes ear symptoms such as pain, blockage or tinnitus (such as ringing or ringing in the ears).
What are the primary TMJ disorders?
What are the symptoms of bruxism?
Bruxism is a clenching or grinding of the teeth that usually occurs during sleep. The jaw muscles are then overused when they should be at rest during the night. Bruxism can contribute to jaw pain when other factors accompany it, such as stress, poor lifestyle habits or prolonged posture. If bruxism is the only factor present, it may be painless.
Since bruxism sometimes causes premature wear of the teeth, a dentist may prescribe a bite plate to wear at night. In combination with physiotherapy, this treatment reduces the pain and protects your teeth. This is why dentists and physiotherapists often work together to treat jaw pain.
What is muscle syndrome?
This is the condition that affects the majority of people seeking physical therapy for jaw pain. Muscle syndrome is caused by muscle spasms or tension points in the muscles of the jaw, neck, or face. You may experience jaw, tooth or eye pain, headaches or ear symptoms such as pain, locking or tinnitus. A muscle syndrome can be caused by a sudden injury or develop over time. Bruxism, stress, bad lifestyle habits or maintaining poor posture are factors that can contribute to muscle tension.
Is it normal for your jaw to crack?
In some people, there is a “click” or a crack that occurs when the mouth opens and/or closes. This noise can be constant or intermittent, located on one or both sides of the jaw, with or without deviation of the chin. This condition is not necessarily associated with pain or other limitations.
The cause of this noise is most often a displacement of the disc inside the temporomandibular joint. When you open your mouth, it may happen that the disc slides slightly forward, then makes a noise when it returns to its place. If this noise is not accompanied by pain, there is usually nothing to worry about.
However, some people may hear a slightly louder noise, which sounds like a “click,” when opening their mouth very wide to yawn or eat. This noise is associated with a jaw thrust, that is, part of the mandible (the bone at the bottom of the jaw) slides forward a little too much and gives the feeling that the jaw could remain stuck, although it can still be closed.
If you experience pain or if your jaw’s movements are inconvenienced, know that temporomandibular joint physiotherapy treatments can help relieve your pain and restore the normal functioning of your jaw.
Why does your jaw lock?
There are mainly two types of jaw blocking: open-limiting and closing-limiting.
If you can’t open your mouth wide enough to bite into a burger, go to the dentist, sing, or even brush your teeth, we’re talking about mouth opening-limitation. It can be caused by stiffness of the joint due for example to osteoarthritis, arthritis or capsulitis, or by the disc not returning to its position. This type of blockage can quickly become very inconvenient in your daily life.
If, on the contrary, you can no longer close your mouth (a situation that can be very stressful!), we speak of a closure limitation. This disorder is usually associated with a dislocation of the jaw following an accident. It can also be caused by too wide or prolonged opening of the mouth in people with ligament hyperlaxity, that is to say too much flexibility of the ligaments that provide joint stability. If this is your case, an appointment with a dentist or a doctor must be made quickly in order to put the jaw back into place.
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the jaw?
Osteoarthritis is the wear and tear of the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in the jaw joint. It is a normal aging process, also associated with genetic predispositions, which does not always cause symptoms. When they occur, the most common symptoms are stiffness and noises including crackling. Sometimes they are also accompanied by muscle pain, tension or weakness.
A history of jaw injuries may contribute to the early onset of osteoarthritis.
How do you relieve jaw pain?
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) in physiotherapy treatment
Physical therapists with advanced training in the treatment of the temporomandibular joint can assess and treat jaw pain. Treatments can take the form of manual therapy techniques, muscle relaxation, and exercises. You will also receive personalized advice on your posture, your lifestyle or activities to modify to reduce or even eliminate your jaw pain.