TMJ Dysfunction: What it is and How Summit Physiotherapy Can Help!

[tem-puh-roh-man-dib-yuh-ler] Joint Dysfunction

Now that you can pronounce it, don’t you want to know what it means?

TMJ, Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction, is a common dysfunction that affects the area around the jaw. Pain felt in the TMJ can be traced to issues in the surrounding muscles, ligaments, myofascial tissue, disc, joint capsule, or even degraded cartilage around the jaw. If you have been experiencing headaches, toothaches, dizziness or head pain anywhere from your teeth to around your eyes, you could be suffering from TMJ dysfunction. Although about 20-30% of the adult population is troubled by this disorder, many sufferers of this common disruption go without treatment. Don’t let this be you!

What is it and how do I know if I have it?


It is helpful to look at the muscles involved in the diagram above to get a better idea of the impacted area. Image credit:

It can be difficult to correctly identify the source of the problem in someone with TMJ dysfunction because of the many systems that interact with the joint. One source of the pain in TMJ dysfunction originates from a misalignment of the joint that acts like a sliding hinge between the jawbone and the skull. This misalignment commonly originates from problems with the surrounding muscles, such as muscle imbalances, tight muscles/myofascial tissue or weakened muscles. When the two moving mechanisms fail to connect comfortably, all functions of the jaw become compromised, introducing pain to the area. Another source of TMJ dysfunction stems from damaged nerve tissue at the branch of the trigeminal nerve that connects to the jaw. Also, ligament damage can be present, which if left untreated can cause a dislocation of the disc leading to disc derangement. A physiotherapist can look into the exact source of the problem and offer a carefully crafted treatment plan.

If you think TMJ dysfunction could be the root cause of your pain, ask yourself the following:

  1. Is the area around my jaw sensitive to touch, or feel increasingly uncomfortable when I’m chewing, yawning or talking?
  2. Can I hear a distinctive popping, grating or clicking sound from the joint when I move my jaw and is there associated pain with these sounds?
  3. Is there sometimes a feeling as though movement in my jaw is limited when I attempt to open or move it?

If you answered yes to one or more of the questions above, and have been suffering from pain in the jaw area, you might benefit from talking to your physiotherapist about TMJ dysfunction.

How can it be treated?

As research into the causes of TMJ dysfunction is still relatively new, doctors usually do not recommend undergoing surgery to reverse its effects. This makes physiotherapy an excellent alternative; because the problem finds its root in the tissues in and around the TMJ, physiotherapists can mitigate the effects of TMJ dysfunction in much the same way they manage pain in other parts of the body. Surprisingly, TMJ dysfunction is often not fundamentally a dental issue. Physiotherapists are trained in and are competent in conducting an examination of the patient in order to recommend the following for treatment:

  • Heat and Ice therapy – to decrease swelling and pain while increasing blood flow to the region
  • Jaw and Posture Exercises – to strengthen muscles, improve flexibility and increase range of motion in the joint(s) and affected area
  • Myofascial release- to alleviate muscle and connective tissue tension
  • Joint Mobilization – manually stretching the joint to increase flexibility and restore normal movement patterns
  • Education – on self-management techniques and how to improve jaw alignment and posture
  • Ultrasound Therapy/TENS – to reduce swelling and pain, and improve circulation
  • Intramuscular Stimulation  To reduce muscle tone and pain, and to restore normal joint mobility
  • Acupuncture – to reduce inflammation, pain and muscle tone

Treatment duration depends on each individual case. Factors that influence the rate of recovery include: the specific cause of the TMJ dysfunction, the length of time the problem has been present, the patient’s compliance with home exercises as well as dental issues, including clenching and grinding, which can be linked to stress. If you would like to book an appointment with a physiotherapist call us today. We hope to be a part of your solution to this aggravating problem, so you can spend your time smiling again – without the pain!