Temporomandibular disorder (TMD), most commonly referred to as “TMJ”, was first termed by the American Dental Association to describe dysfunctions related to the temporomandibular joint and its surrounding structures. According to a 2014 study published in The Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, symptoms of TMD occur in 35% or more of population samples, with only 5% to 10% seeking treatment. This may be due to an individual’s inability to recognize symptoms or know where to turn for treatment. In order to recognize TMD symptoms, we must understand what the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is. The TMJ is a small joint located on both sides of the face, just in front of the ear canal. Most commonly known as “the jaw”, the TMJ and its surrounding musculature play a major role in chewing, talking, and facial expressions. This joint can become dysfunctional from many things such as trauma to the head/ face, bruxism (teeth grinding), neck dysfunction and poor posture.
When this happens, TMD can present a wide variety of symptoms. Primary symptoms include pain located on the sides of the face and head, popping or clicking in the jaw, locking of the jaw, headaches, and ringing in the ear. No two cases of TMD are the same, and symptoms may be due to many things such as joint inflammation, muscle tension or weakness, temporomandibular disc displacement, and other neuromuscular disorders; all requiring different forms of treatment. Physical therapists who have extensive training with the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular system can assist in the diagnosis and treatment of these symptoms.
When you are seen by a physical therapist you will be taken through a thorough examination consisting of clinical tests and measures. Following the evaluation, treatment will consist of hands on manual therapy, therapeutic exercises and postural training to help decrease pain and restore function to the injured structures.
Physical therapy is a form of conservative treatment, meaning no surgery, no medication and no side effects. Many people do not see physical therapy as a viable option to this condition, so if you are experiencing symptoms similar to those listed above, consult with your doctor, dentist or physical therapist to determine if you will benefit from conservative treatment. In the meantime, avoid jaw grinding, chewing gum, drinking through a straw and slouched posture.
Philip Silverio received his doctorate degree in physical therapy from Sacred Heart University. He treats patients of all ages with a wide variety of injuries. Amity Physical Therapy was founded by Michael Dow MSPT eleven years ago and is the fastest growing practice in the area with facilities in Woodbridge, Hamden and Branford. For more information, call 203-389-4593 or visit www.amitypt.com.