Physical therapy can be used to treat a wide range of conditions and injuries. With the right treatment modalities, physical therapy can often bring pain relief and healing, allowing patients to forego more invasive measures such as surgery. One reason patients frequently seek the expertise of a physical therapist is for the treatment of persistent, reoccurring headaches. The reality is that there is often an underlying cause like Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ/TMD) behind the symptoms a patient is experiencing. Thankfully, since physical therapy can be tailored to address specific conditions and injuries it can be used to successfully treat TMD, as well as a variety of other issues. If you are considering physical therapy to address headaches or other problematic symptoms, you may be interested in exactly how TMJ physical therapy works. Read on to have your most frequently asked questions about TMJ physical therapy addressed, so you can get started with the right treatment plan ASAP!

What Is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD/TMJ) is a condition that affects the jaw joint and surrounding muscles. Statistically speaking, as much as 33% of the population will be plagued with symptoms of TMD sometime during their lifetime. The TMJ connects the lower jaw to the skull and its primary function is to facilitate basic movements of the mouth, such as chewing, speaking, opening/closing, and yawning. If the joint or its muscles are harmed it can cause pain, soreness, stiffness, headaches, and other problematic symptoms. TMD may also occur due to a misaligned disk or cartilage deterioration. Ultimately, it is important to be aware that while this condition is quite common, it is not normal, and the resulting pain should not be ignored.

What Symptoms Are Caused by Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?

The symptoms of TMD vary from person to person and can be wide-ranging. However, common symptoms associated with TMD include pain or tenderness in the face, neck, jaw joint, shoulder, and/or around the ear, pain when biting/chewing, facial swelling, and headaches/migraines. Additionally, those with TMD may experience a popping or clicking sound when opening their mouth or issues with the jaw locking when opening/closing their mouth. There may also be a feeling of tightness in the jaw, restricted movement, or difficulty opening and closing the mouth. Thus, should you experience one or multiple symptoms of TMD it could be beneficial to visit a physical therapist for an evaluation.

How Can Physical Therapy Help Treat Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?

In many cases, physical therapy is an excellent option to treat TMD and provides patients with much-needed relief from persistent pain or symptoms associated with this condition. A physical therapist can create a customized plan that incorporates various treatments, such as manual therapies, patient education, exercise plans, and self-care programs. These treatments are designed to help improve mobility in the joint, reduce inflammation, and alleviate pain, so patients can get their quality of life back.

What Treatment Modalities Are Used in TMJ Physical Therapy?

TMJ physical therapy is tailored to the needs of each individual patient and therefore can vary significantly from person to person. Generally speaking, treatment modalities used in TMJ physical therapy may include a range of manual therapies, such as massage and joint mobilizations, therapeutic exercises to improve the range of motion in the jaw and neck muscles, posture correction to optimize alignment throughout the entire body, self-care education on proper sleeping and eating habits, and strengthening exercises to help stabilize the TMJ. Other treatment options may include myofascial release, ultrasound, trigger point dry needling, and soft tissue mobilization. Ultimately, the goal of all treatment modalities is to reduce pain and tension in the jaw joint and its surrounding muscles, improve the movement of the mouth, reduce inflammation, improve posture, increase the flexibility and strength of the neck muscles, and promote overall healing to improve the quality of life for the patient.

Will TMJ Physical Therapy Cure My TMJ?

While physical therapy can often help to reduce pain and other symptoms associated with TMJ, it is important to understand that it cannot necessarily “cure” the condition itself. The primary goal of physical therapy is to help relieve the symptoms of the condition and improve overall function, so you can return to your daily activities with minimal discomfort. Typically, most patients can expect to experience a reduction in their symptoms after just a few sessions. Many patients report significant improvement including an improved range of motion within the jaw joint and neck area, decreased pain and soreness in the face/neck/jaw region, improved posture, and a greater overall awareness of their body. Ultimately, while the results of TMJ physical therapy may vary from person to person, it is a safe and effective way to address this condition without resorting to more invasive measures like surgery.

Are There Any Special Considerations To Keep In Mind When Seeking Treatment For TMD?

Yes! It is important to note that many of the same techniques used to treat TMD can also be utilized for other conditions, such as headaches and neck pain. Therefore, it is important to consult with a physical therapist who specializes in treating TMD  to ensure that you receive the correct diagnosis and the right treatment plan. Additionally, make sure that your physical therapist is aware of any preexisting medical conditions you have been diagnosed with any medications or supplements you are currently taking as these factors may affect how sessions are conducted.

Why Should I Consider Physical Therapy for TMD?

Physical therapy is an excellent option to treat TMD due to its non-invasive and holistic approach. Through TMJ physical therapy, you can expect a significant improvement or complete mitigation of the symptoms associated with TMD. Moreover, since physical therapy can lessen or completely mitigate the pain caused by this condition, you will experience freedom from dependence on pain medications. Lastly, physical therapy can help to reduce stress and anxiety associated with TMD and chronic pain, further improving your mental health and physical well-being. Simply put, you have nothing to lose other than chronic pain, jaw dysfunction, or costly surgery. Consider if visiting a physical therapist trained in TMJ treatment could be the right step to take in your health journey!


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