the mandible or jaw bone meets the temporalis bone

TMJ Disorder or Temporomandibular joint disorder

Jaw pain? Jaw locking, clicking or popping? You may be suffering from Temporomandibular joint or TMJ disorder.

What is Temporomandibular joint disorder? What causes TMJ problems? What are the common signs and symptoms? What to do if you have TMJ disorder? How long until it resolves? This article will answer all of your burning questions about Temporomandibular joint disorder.

If reading isn’t your style, check out this brief video with Dr. Abbey Davidson (Osteopath):

What is temporomandibular joint disorder?

Temporomandibular joint or TMJ disorder is the most common cause of jaw pain.

the mandible or jaw bone meets the temporalis bone

The temporomandibular joint or TMJ is commonly referred to as the jaw. The TMJ is a sliding hinge joints with an internal articular disc, which attaches jaw bone (mandible) to the skull. The TMJ allows a person to open, close and manipulate the mouth position allowing for chewing, speaking and facial expressions.

TMJ disorder is a condition where one of both TMJ joints cause pain, clicking, popping and/or locking of the jaw.  The combination motion of the jaw (sliding hinge) can be quite easily and obviously effected by many of the structures that make up the TMJ (including muscles, bones and discs). People between the ages of 20-40 are most commonly effected by TMJ Disorder; females more often than males.

Causes of TMJ disorder:

In most cases there is not one direct or obvious cause of TMJ disorder and it can be a combination of factors which leads to symptoms. Common causes of TMJ disorders:

  • Trauma/injury
  • Jaw clenching or teeth grinding
  • Dental issues
  • Osteoarthritis (wear and tear)
  • Disc derangement

If you are concerned you may be suffering from TMJ disorder get assessed by your osteopath and physiotherapist.

Signs and Symptoms of TMJ disorder

Common signs and symptoms of temporomandibular include:

  • Jaw pain (especially while eating)
  • Clicking
  • Popping
  • Locking
  • Earache
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Muscle tightness
  • Restricted jaw opening/closing

As the TMJ is a set of two joints you can be getting a range of these symptoms in one or both sides. Symptoms intensity can vary each day depending on use, food intake and other factors.

What you can do right now for TMJ disorder?

If you are suffering from TMJ disorder consider resting, self-massage and strengthening exercises.

Resting your jaw may sound strange but to achieve decreased stress on the jaw trial eating soft foods (avoiding harder items), no gum chewing and avoiding unnecessary use of your mouth/jaw. You may also want to try and avoid situations where you clench your jaw (e.g. high stress work) to allow for muscle relaxation. By decreasing the load on your TMJ to allow opportunity for it to start to heal.  

Self-massage techniques will aim to decrease muscular tension around the jaw. The masseter and temporalis muscles of the jaw should be a real focus of this technique. A demonstration of these techniques is in the video at the top of page. You can perform massage on both sides of your jaw (not only on your symptomatic side) for up to 1 minute in each muscle 2-3 times per day.  

Strengthening exercises like those demonstrated in the video at the top of page can help correct muscular firing patterns that impact how your jaw is moving. While the self-massage techniques will help provide symptomatic relief, strengthening exercises will help with correcting your TMJ symptoms on the long term.

Physio and osteo treatment for TMJ disorder:

Your physiotherapy or osteopathy appointment will begin after a medical and case history has been taken. This will be followed by physical examination of the TMJ and surrounding areas. This will allow for the formation of an appropriate treatment plan addressing the findings causing your symptoms. In some cases your physio or osteo may refer you for further imaging (e.g. x-ray, CT or MRI) to confirm their suspicions.

Physio or osteo treatment for TMJ disorder will involvve soft tissue, srtetching, manipulation, dry needling

Hands on therapy for Temporomandibular Joint disorder will aim to decrease muscular tension, improve joint range of motion and reduce pain levels. Techniques could include soft tissue massage, stretching, muscular energy techniques, HVLA (manipulation), dry needling and more.

Exercise rehabilitation will often be prescribed in combination with your osteo or physio treatment. These will target not only the TMJ itself but also the neck stabilizers to correct and re-strengthen head positioning to decrease excess jaw stress.

If your osteo or physio sees fit you may be referred to a dentist to be fitted with a personalized mouthguards or splint. If your TMJ disorder is caused by dental issues this will need to be corrected to effectively treat the cause of your symptoms.

How long until TMJ disorder gets better?

Most people with TMJ disorder will respond to conservative treatments within 1-3 months.

Time until recovery from TMJ disorder will vary depending on the exact cause or causes of your symptoms. TMJ pain caused by osteoarthritis for example, will never be ‘cured’ but can be managed to minimalize symptoms and prevent further degeneration of the joint.

In rare cases, where there is no response to conservative treatments surgery may be considered.

By Sydney CBD Osteopath Dr Abbey Davidson