Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) can be extremely painful for some and others may have no pain, but experience issues with opening and/or closing their jaw. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) itself is primarily a hinge joint, similar to our knee and elbow joints. It does allow side to side movement as well. There is a small disc within the joint that can be involved at times. The joint connects the jaw bone (mandible) to the temporal bones of your skull. This allows us to chew our food, speak to one another and open/close our mouths as needed. Problems can arise for this joint and its surrounding soft tissues. The 2 muscles that tend to be the biggest issue in TMD are the temporalis and masseter. Both function as closers of the jaw. The masseter is the stronger of the two. Many with TMD will report that they are having pain in the jaw joint just in front of the ear with eating/chewing or they simply cannot open their mouth. Others will feel like their upper and lower teeth are not lining up due to a shift in the mandible. There are various symptoms that occur but these are the common ones our practice tends to see.
A great way to assess TMD is to palpate the TMJ and its surrounding soft tissues. There may have been trauma to the neck that lead to TMD so the cervical spine should be included in the assessment. If one side is moving less than the other and if this same side is opening later in the motion compared to the other side, this is usually the side of dysfunction. The assessment should not be painful and either should the treatment. There are various ways to treat TMD. A very safe and non invasive treatment method is Active Release Techniques (ART). When ART is applied to the temporalis, masseter, or both, the patient will often feel the pressure in the joint decrease and notice an improvement in their range of motion, not to mention a significant reduction in their pain level. The true cause of TMD is not always easy to uncover, but patients do appreciate a thorough assessment and a productive hands on treatment session knowing that they are on the road to recovery quickly and permanently. If the TMD is a soft tissue disorder and not a major injury or pathology is suspected, patients will typically experience relief in 1-2 visits and on average have complete resolution within 4-6 visits. Maintaining this improvement may require some simple, yet powerful jaw/neck muscle activation exercises for daily homework.
If you are experiencing TMJ pain and you have tried everything that you can think of for relief, mouth guards, medications, surgery, and still no luck, find yourself a certified ART provider. You won’t be disappointed!