A couple of months ago, I encountered a patient suffering from jaw pain. Her symptoms began as a subtle ache in front of her right ear. At the time, it was nothing debilitating or problematic. Over the course of the year, however, her symptoms progressively worsened. She became unable to open her jaw without pain. Everyday activities such as brushing her teeth and eating dinner became uncomfortable. She no longer went out to eat with her husband due to her inability to chew the food she ordered, and became embarrassed and frustrated.
Unfortunately, these experiences are more common than they need to be. The take home message? There is hope – temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) can be treated, often times without surgery. Marbach and Lipten write “approximately 50% of all cases of TMD are the result of pain/tightness in the muscles used to open and close the jaw”. Luckily for jaw pain suffers, physical therapists are equipped with the tools necessary to reduce tension in these muscles and promote pain-free jaw movement. Treatment can include joint stretching and strengthening, muscle tissue mobilization, cupping and even dry needling.
People often wonder whether the symptoms they experience are related to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and whether physical therapy can help their symptoms. Here are a few questions to consider that may help:
- Do you have tenderness when applying pressure to your jaw?
- Does your jaw click when you open or close your mouth?
- Does your jaw move to one side when opening, or even at rest?
Answering these questions can help you determine whether or not you should follow up with a healthcare practitioner. If you decide to go forward with care, take a look at our blog post, titled 6 questions to know for your TMJ healthcare provider to prepare you for your upcoming visit.
If you are experiencing facial, jaw, and/or neck pain and answered yes to any of these questions, you could be suffering from TMD. If you are unsure, feel free to give us a call at Glackin Physiotherapy to determine if physical therapy is right for you.
Brendan Glackin, DPT, CSCS, CMTPT
- Marbach JJ, Lipton JA: Treatment of patients with temporomandibular joint and other facial pain by otolaryngologists. Arch Otolaryngol 108:102-107, 1982.