The temporomandibular joint (or TMJ) is a hinge joint, located right in front of your ear, that connects your jaw bone (also known as the mandible) to your skull. Calling it a hinge joint, actually, is a bit of an oversimplification – there is a substantial piece of cartilage in between the bones which slides back and fourth as the mouth opens and closes, and a complex system of ligaments and muscles that control the movement of this cartilage and the bones.
This joint works hard for you every day – each time you chew, talk, or yawn, your TMJ is involved. Problems in this joint – which usually present as pain felt just in front of the ear, clicking or popping in the joint or in the ear itself, difficulty chewing, or the mouth getting “locked” in the open or closed position – often result from poor joint alignment. The muscles, ligaments and cartilage of this joint must all maintain a balance between mobility and stability in order for smooth, controlled opening and closing of the mouth to be possible.
TMJ pain affects well over 5% of the population, with some studies suggesting as high as 12% (1). Further, it has been suggested that women are as much as 1.5 times more likely to exhibit symptoms consistent with TMJ pain. Hormone levels, higher stress and a higher likelihood of disorders with the jaw all contribute to the higher rate of occurrence for female TMJ.
When you seek physical therapy treatment for TMJ pain, you can expect to be taken through a thorough evaluation to determine the structures that could be affecting your jaw, which may include your neck or shoulder! By balancing the articular surfaces of the TMJ, decreasing tension in the jaw muscles, and improving spine alignment and posture our Therapists can help you get long-term results. Additionally, your physical therapists may recommend soft tissue mobilization, myofascial release, postural restoration, craniosacral therapy or a combination of all of the above to aide in the healing of your TMJ pain.
A therapist trained in the use of Craniosacral techniques can assess the position and motion of the temporal bones, as well as the alignment of the mandible, and can work to bring all of these bones toward more optimal positions. Further, the deep relaxation that is experienced during a Craniosacral session can go a long way to counteract the effects of stress – jaw clenching and tooth grinding in the TMJ is often related to stress – that can fuel chronic TMJ pain.
Sources 1 Liu, Frederick, and Andrew Steinkeler. “Epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of temporomandibular disorders.” Dental Clinics of North America57.3 (2013): 465-479.