The Pain of TMD

Temporomandibular joint disorder (or “dysfunction”) (TMD) is very common; more than 10 million people in the United States have it.

The Jaw – Neck – Posture Connection

Symptom of TMD include: jaw, face or neck pain, headaches, jaw popping/clicking/locking, difficulty opening your mouth to eat or talk, ear ringing or plugged feeling, and jaw fatigue. If you have any of these symptoms, it may be related to temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD) and can be effectively managed by OSPTA Doctors of Physical Therapy.

Temporomandibular Joint

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is formed from your lower jaw and skull. Other components for function include muscles for motion, a cartilage disc to create more uniform fit and movement and ligaments to connect the bones.

The TMJ is closely related to the neck in both function and position – such that a problem in one is likely to affect the other. The TMJ is vital to eating and talking — it is never fully at rest since subtle movements occur even with breathing.

The value of physical therapy care in the management of TMD is supported by current scientific evidence and the recommendation of the National Institute of Health (NIH). The NIH describes the profession of physical therapy in their recommendation for providers to treat TMD. “Look for a health care provider who understands musculoskeletal disorders (affecting muscle, bone and joints) and who is trained in treating pain conditions.”

Neck Pain

The neck is comprised of seven bones (cervical vertebrae), the joints connecting them, and soft tissues (muscle, ligament, nerves and vessels). The neck is well designed to support the weight of your head though not when the head is out of its neutral position for extended periods of time. The biggest controllable factor affecting neck pain is posture. The neck is very vulnerable to posture stress since nearly every life activity involves looking and working forward – especially these days with computers and mobile phones.

Placing your head forward of its intended position easily becomes a habit commonly referred to as slouching posture. Imagine the strain of holding a child at arm’s length instead of close in to your body – this is the same type of strain bad posture puts on the body, especially the neck and TMJ.

When standing in ideal or “neutral” posture, a straight line from top to bottom would fall directly in the middle of the: ear -> shoulder -> hip->knee->ankle.

Although we cannot function in neutral posture all the time, some simple strategies can help:

  • Take frequent breaks from positions in which you are sitting or working in head forward positions – even a few seconds will help
  • Get a feel for neutral by having a picture taken, looking in a mirror and/or from family or friends – give permission to have others “nag” and do the same for them!
  • Practice standing and sitting as tall as you possibly can – then try to stretch up another inch

OSPTA can help – TMD, neck pain, posture – and much more!

The doctors of physical therapy at OSPTA have training and expertise perfectly suited to treat TMD, neck problems and to assess and help improve posture. Physical therapists receive specialized education in a variety of sciences – physics, human anatomy, kinesiology (human movement), to name a few – they understand how the body works and how to get you moving again. They know how to manage all four of the body’s major systems – musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular/pulmonary, and integumentary (skin) – to restore and maximize mobility. Physical therapists apply research and proven techniques to help people get back motion. They are trusted health care professionals with extensive clinical experience who examine, diagnose, and then prevent or treat conditions that limit the body’s ability to move and function in daily life.

Ideally, these areas are treated by a coordinated effort with a team of experts including physical therapy, your primary care physician, dental professional, otolaryngologist (ENT) and rheumatologist.

Symptoms and Conditions

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