Temporomandibular Joint Disorder-Prevention and Treatment
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is often undervalued and misunderstood in the realm of physical therapy, yet it is one of the most used joints of the human body and is involved in many of the functions that make humans unique beings. Eating, swallowing, talking, kissing, sneezing, coughing, licking, smiling, blowing wind to play instruments, to name a few, are all activities that involve the TMJ to some degree.
As you can imagine, even some of the most basic tasks of human function can be some of the most arduous when someone suffers from temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD). It is estimated that between 60-70% of the general population has at least one sign of TMD. Current research is not conclusive on what the causes of TMD are, but in 95% of all TMD cases musculoskeletal facial pain is a reported symptom. With the presence of pain, there usually is an altering of function as to avoid the pain, which ends up in a snowball of compensations, restrictions, and further dysfunction. Other symptoms include clicking of the jaw with movement, locking of the jaw in certain positions, difficulty chewing, malocclusion of the teeth (feeling that the top and bottom teeth don’t fit together uniformly), and swelling of the face on the side that is affected.
TMD is notorious for being associated with poor head and neck posture, which creates a myriad of muscular insufficiencies and oral asymmetry during occlusion. For example, when tapping the teeth together with the head in a neutral position, all of the teeth ideally strike simultaneously. However, when performing the same task with the head in a forward position, the anterior teeth occlude (come into contact with each other) first. Therefore, forward head posture leads to malocclusion (meaning the teeth don’t come into contact correctly), which can lead to the accumulation of numerous oral muscular restrictions when a task-performed daily such as repetitive food chewing is taken into consideration.
There is good news, however. Many cases of TMD happen to involve a large musculoskeletal component, therefore, individuals with TMD respond fairly well to physical therapy. If you are someone that suffers from this condition, there are numerous strategies that you can implement at home to be able to give you relief and get on the right track to recovery. Treatment should focus on symptomatic relief along with correcting head and neck posture.
Here are some exercises you can try at home.