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Physical Therapy Helps Relieve Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD)

December 12, 2016

By Rachel Snyder, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT

People typically do not give much thought to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), even though it is the most used joint in the human body. These flexible joints connect the lower jaw (mandible) to the bone on the side of the head (temporal bone) and move our jaw, helping us to talk, chew and yawn.

For approximately ten million Americans, those simple activities become difficult because of a painful condition called Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD). Individuals with TMD frequently experience symptoms like:

  • Jaw/Joint tenderness
  • Pain in and surrounding the ear
  • Difficulty/pain when chewing
  • Facial pain
  • Difficulty opening or closing your mouth
  • Joint clicking/popping
  • Trouble maintaining proper posture

TMD is frequently due to simple wear and tear, grinding or clenching of teeth or even poor posture. Over time, the disk that helps the joint move erodes. Arthritis also causes TMD, as the disease damages the cartilage within the joint.  An injury or blow to the jaw also can contribute to TMD, even years after the injury.

Because TMD has many causes and symptoms, getting a correct diagnosis is sometimes difficult. People mistakenly assume they have migraines, dental and/or ear problems and seek relief from specialists. Some live with the pain or rely on medication.

Those who suffer with TMD symptoms should consider seeing a physical therapist. Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network’s therapists examine all possible contributing factors and nearby joints. They consider the patient’s movement, flexibility, strength, posture, endurance, pain and range of motion in the TMJ and surrounding muscles.

Good Shepherd’s physical therapists create treatment plans based on the patient’s symptoms. Hands-on manual therapy decreases muscle and joint pains as well as spasms. Therapeutic exercises lessen muscle imbalances and help the patient improve breathing, flexibility and posture difficulties that contribute to TMD. Lastly, physical therapists educate patients on modifying their environment and activities to reduce symptoms.

Media Contact:
Lynn Gerlach