Temporomandibular joint disorders, commonly known as TMJ, occur just in front of each ear, where the upper jaw and lower jaw connect. The joint is used for everyday tasks, such as chewing, talking and yawning. Due to the complexity of the joint, certain complications can arise, which can cause the joint to function improperly. When this occurs, TMJ disorders develop, making it difficult to maintain everyday use of the joint. Patients with TMJ experience many uncomfortable and painful symptoms, which often include headaches, TMJ pain, dizziness, and tinnitus. Luckily, treatments are available, including physical therapy for TMJ patients to learn how to cope with the disorder.
TMJ Physical Therapy Techniques
Physical therapy for TMJ disorders teach new techniques to overcome the symptoms of the disorder, allowing improved use of the joint and symptom relief. With TMJ physical therapy techniques in place, pain can be reduced and the mobility of the joint can be preserved. Common physical therapy techniques include massaging the joint, electrical stimulation and jaw exercises to strengthen the joint.
Often, electromyographic biofeedback is used, which allows the muscles of the jaw to relax, ceasing pain and increasing movement of the joint. When used in combination with stress management, biofeedback often produces positive results. Spray and stretch exercises are used to numb the painful regions of the joint and stretch the jaw using a jaw motion device. In some cases, joint massage and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) are used during physical therapy.
TMJ Physical Therapy Exercises
Exercises for TMJ may not work for everyone, but they can be very effective for some. The goal of the exercises are to strengthen the joint by giving the muscles and tendons in the area a workout. The results of the exercises may not be immediately obvious, but with repetition, positive results are achievable.
Exercises typically begin by opening the jaw as widely as possibly to stretch the musicles (without causing severe discomfort) and then slowly closing the jaw. While doing this, the jaw should be rotated to the left side. The exercise should then be repeated with a rotation to the right side. After the jaw has been properly stretched, the hands may be used to gently stretch the jaw muscles further, being careful not to cause injury.
While using physical therapy exercises, it is essential to maintain blood flow to the joint. With improved blood flow, pain can subside, allowing the muscles to become well oxygenated and, as a result, increasing proper muscle function. To increase blood flow to the area, hot, moist towels may be applied to the sides of the face while performing the exercises.
Note: Patients should consult a physician before beginning physical therapy exercises for TMJ.
“Temporomandibular Joint Disorder,” https://www.medicinenet.com/temporomandibular_joint__disorder/article.htm
“Temporomandibular Disorders,” https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec08/ch097/ch097a.html