Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction is a common condition that affects the jaw joint and surrounding muscles, causing sensations such as clicking, locking, pain and discomfort.
In this article, we will explore what the TMJ is, what causes dysfunction, why it’s crucial to address this issue, and how physiotherapy interventions can effectively manage TMJ dysfunction.
What is the temporomandibular joint?
The temporomandibular joint is the joint connecting your jawbone (mandible) to your skull (temporal bone) on each side of your face.
It allows you to perform essential functions like chewing, speaking, and yawning.
The TMJ is a complex joint that incorporates both hinge and sliding motions, enabling smooth and coordinated movements.
What causes TMJ dysfunction?
Several factors contribute to the development of TMJ dysfunction, including:
- Jaw misalignment – malocclusion, a misalignment of the teeth, or an improper bite can strain the TMJ
- Bruxism – teeth grinding or clenching can place excessive pressure on the TMJ, leading to dysfunction
- Stress – emotional and psychological stress can result in jaw clenching or tension, which can exacerbate TMJ dysfunction
- Trauma or injury – a direct impact to the jaw or face, such as during a sports injury or accident, can damage the TMJ
- Arthritis – inflammatory conditions like arthritis can affect the TMJ and cause dysfunction
Signs of TMJ dysfunction appear in about 60–70% of the general population and yet only about one in four people with signs are actually aware of or report any symptoms (Verma S, 2012).
Severe problems are far more prevalent in females compared to males, with an 8:1 ratio seeking medical intervention (Verma S, 2012).
Why is it important to address TMJ dysfunction?
TMJ dysfunction can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. Here’s why addressing this condition is crucial:
- Pain management – TMJ dysfunction often leads to pain in the jaw, face, head, and neck. Physiotherapy interventions can effectively alleviate pain and discomfort.
- Improved jaw function – TMJ dysfunction can hinder normal jaw movements, affecting eating, speaking, and even breathing. Physiotherapy aims to restore optimal jaw function.
- Prevention of further complications – untreated TMJ dysfunction can lead to long-term complications, such as chronic headaches, neck pain, and even dental issues. Timely intervention can prevent the progression of these problems.
- Enhanced overall wellbeing – TMJ dysfunction can cause significant physical and emotional stress. By addressing the condition, physiotherapy can promote overall well-being and improve quality of life.
Physiotherapy interventions for TMJ dysfunction
Physiotherapy plays a pivotal role in the management of TMJ dysfunction. Here are some evidence-based interventions commonly employed:
- Manual therapy – skilled physiotherapists employ hands-on techniques to mobilise and manipulate the TMJ to restore joint mobility and alleviate pain. Additional techniques such as soft tissue massage and dry needling can be used to change muscles surrounding the TMJ. Protocols of mixed manual therapy techniques presented the strongest evidence for symptom control and improvement of TMJ opening (Calixtre, 2015).
- Exercises and stretches – specific exercises and stretches help improve jaw mobility, strengthen muscles, and correct muscular imbalances around the TMJ.
- Posture and ergonomics education – educating patients about maintaining good posture and ergonomic practices can reduce strain on the jaw joint and minimise TMJ dysfunction.
- Stress management techniques – stress reduction techniques like relaxation exercises, breathing techniques, and mindfulness can help alleviate jaw tension caused by stress.
- Patient education – providing comprehensive education about TMJ dysfunction, self-care strategies, and lifestyle modifications empowers patients to actively participate in their recovery.
TMJ dysfunction can significantly impact daily life, causing pain, discomfort, and functional limitations.
However, with the appropriate physiotherapy interventions, this condition can be effectively managed.
By addressing TMJ dysfunction promptly, patients can experience relief from pain, improved jaw function, and enhanced overall well-being.
If you are experiencing TMJ dysfunction book an appointment today or call our clinic on 9901 4000. I am always available to chat to you if you have any further questions.
- Calixtre, L. B., Moreira, R. F. C., Franchini, G. H., Alburquerque-Sendín, F., & Oliveira, A. B. (2015). Manual therapy for the management of pain and limited range of motion in subjects with signs and symptoms of temporomandibular disorder: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, 42(11), 847–861. https://doi.org/10.1111/joor.12321
- Verma, S., Maheshwari, S., & Chaudhari, P. (2012). Etiological factors of temporomandibular joint disorders. National Journal of Maxillofacial Surgery, 3(2), 238–239. https://doi.org/10.4103/0975-5950.111397