5-Steps for Overcoming Jaw (TMD/TMJ) Pain

Temporomandibular joint disorder, or dysfunction, (TMD) is a common condition that limits the natural functions of the jaw, such as opening the mouth and chewing.  It is sometimes referred to as simply “TMJ,” which represents the name of the joint itself.  Some contributing factors to TMD include poor posture, chronic jaw clenching, and poor teeth alignment, to fracture or conditions such as lockjaw, where the muscles around the jaw spasm and reduce the opening of the mouth.  At Movement Solutions, we help people with TMD ease pain, regain normal jaw movement, and get back a normal quality of life.

The location of pain and discomfort is often in the muscles of the jaw (e.g. masseter, pterygoid) and of the head (temporalis)  There are many other muscles near the head and neck that had hold tension when it comes to TMD.  The particular region that is the source of pain varies from person to person.

When we help our patients who have been diagnosed with TMD, we take a 5-step approach towards overcoming jaw pain:

  1. Identify the Root and Contributing Causes to Jaw Pain
  2. Alleviate Pain with Hands-on Therapy
  3. Restore Movement with Targeted Exercise
  4. Develop Strength for a Sustainable Results
  5. Maintain and Progress for a Lasting Outcome

To determine what regions are contributing to the pain, an examination would be needed.  Although there are differences in how we treat different types of jaw pain, we’ve found that common limitations exist with TMD.

Some factors that contribute to jaw pain include overuse of the shallow neck flexor muscles. In addition, there can be weakness of the deep neck, upper back, and shoulder stabilizer muscles.  The body will often compensate for weakness in these regions with tension, knots, and trigger points that develop in the neck, shoulder, and upper “trap” muscles as well.

However, the only way to know what is contributing to jaw pain is to perform a movement assessment.

Once we know what the limitations are, our first recommendation that we usually make is to take a break from any aggravating activity such as chewing hard foods.

Making simple changes allows for an environment for irritation to settle down.  While making these changes usually helps with pain, we know to fully restore jaw health, we have to address the underlying imbalances that have developed.

When tense and stiff head, neck, shoulder, and jaw muscles are found via our assessment, our approach includes manual mobilization to alleviate pain and discomfort.  Pain improvements can be made very quickly with soft tissue mobilization and/or dry needling of the masseter, temporalis, and upper trap muscles.

However, we know that for pain improvements to last, we need to develop strength.

If weakness is found, we teach activation exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well.  Some of theses muscles include the deep neck flexors, lower trapezius, infraspinatus, lats, and serratus anterior. Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is teaching our patients proper movement mechanics.

Finally, to keep the pain from jaw pain from returning quickly, we need to develop strength and durability through resistance exercise.  We like one-armed kettlebell exercises because they teach the body how to stabilize on off-center object and engage many stabilizing muscles at once.

When addressed with a thorough physical therapy assessment and plan of care, resolving jaw pain is possible.  However, ignoring pain can cascade into more problems down the road.  If you have TMD related pain and want a long term solution, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource for you. 

We have a free guide on relieving neck and shoulder pain.  The recommendations that we outline in this guide are also ones that make for someone who has TMD.  We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your jaw pain is affecting you and discuss your treatment options.

If you want help, we offer a limited number of free Discovery Visit’s at our office.  This type of appointment of for those who are interested in getting jaw pain behind them.  It is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your condition, and develop confidence that we can help you. 

If you’re certain that we’re a good fit and ready to book an appointment, you can inquire about cost and availability and get the process started.

If you’re in pain and unsure about what your next steps should be, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.

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