Why You Should See a Physiotherapist For Jaw Pain
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) sits where the lower jaw meets the skull. It’s like any other joint in your shoulder, back or neck, with a disc surrounded by muscles and ligaments. It’s similar to a ball and socket joint, with one bone sliding in and out of the other, and it is also capable of gliding movement.
And just like any other joint, the TMJ is susceptible to irritation and pain, also known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Symptoms range from irritating clicking to pain when talking, eating or yawning. TMD can also refer up into the skull, resulting in headaches around the temples or ear aches.
TMD can be caused by grinding or clenching your teeth from stress or unknowingly in your sleep; your teeth not being in line and throwing off joint movement; over-stretching your jaw during a long dental procedure or just a yawn; an odd sleeping posture that puts your jaw out of line; or from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis causing direct irritation of the cartilage in the joint.
It’s not an athletic joint, but it still gets injured
You may not think to visit a physiotherapist for pain or irritation in your jaw, but we treat it no differently than we would any other joint in your body.
First we assess the movement of your jaw, feeling your muscles as you open and close it to check for any tightness, weakness or imbalance, while also watching for any peculiarities in the movement, such as the jaw moving to one side slightly.
We’ll then try to loosen up any affected muscles and correct your posture (as any postural problems in your neck may also impede your jaw movement) to see if there is any relief of symptoms.
Occasionally, the pain may not be caused by TMD at all, and is instead being referred up from a problem in your neck. It’s the same phenomenon I wrote about here, in my blog headaches and pain referral.
Once we’re sure that you have TMD, we’ll discuss your lifestyle, habits and injury history to try and figure out if anything is causing or exacerbating the pain, from the common causes listed above to small habits like chewing gum or biting nails.
Stress is a significant factor in TMD, so we often prescribe deep breathing exercises and generally advise on methods of reducing stress to reduce stress-related clenching, teeth grinding and jaw tension, as well as how to maintain a relaxed jaw posture with teeth slightly apart and tongue resting behind your front teeth.
A workout for your jaw
Then, like with any other injury or condition we treat, there’s the prescribed exercise. Unsurprisingly, few people ever think about exercising their jaw, and the exercises aren’t the type that are going to make you break into a sweat.
Jaw exercises are simple, controlled movements through your entire range of jaw motion: open and closed, left and right, forward and backward, along with some light resistance applied by simply pushing up against your jaw with your hand.
We have to be careful with the amount we prescribe, as too much pressure may make the TMD worse, so this isn’t something to try without prescription unless you’re trying to prevent rather than treat jaw pain.
After that, it’s simply a case of maintaining these exercises and reducing any bad habits that may be exacerbating your pain. It can take a while to treat TMD as there are a lot of factors to control and it’s a joint that doesn’t get much rest, but I have a strong success rate with these conservative treatments.
So if you’re suffering from TMD, book an appointment now by contacting email@example.com or 020 7093 3499. Physios not be the obvious choice for jaw pain, but we’re the right one.
Sports and Spinal physiotherapist