What you need to know about temporomandibular joint disorder

The jaw, also known as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a hinge joint that may cause pain and tenderness when it is not functioning properly, due to dysfunction of the TMJ and the muscles around the joint. This condition is named TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome.

There are 3 types of causes for the jaw pain:

  1. Muscular pain
  2. Internal damage/dysfunction
  3. Wear and tear (degeneration joint disease)

The TMJ pain predominantly presents itself mainly in the form of pain in the joint and masticatory muscles, as well as causing a locked jaw and restricted jaw movement. It may also involve the radiation of pain down the face, neck and shoulders, headaches, earaches, dizziness and painful clicking in the TMJ during the opening or closing of the jaw. More predominantly this occur in females compared to males (4:1) and mainly in the 20-40’s age group.

Other causes of TMJ syndrome include joint diseases (e.g. arthritis), malocclusion, trauma from prolonged mouth opening, dental conditions, hypermobility of the joint, a displaced articular disc and stress which leads to clenching of teeth.

Management for TMJ syndrome include the use of occlusal splints to reduce muscle hyperactivity due to bruxism and clenching, heat and ice application, and massage which helps to reduce inflammation and pain. Active and passive jaw movements have also shown to be effective in reducing pain. A strict soft diet and the reduction of hard food items is highly recommended. For chronic conditions, imaging may be required – such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). This will help determine if it is conservative or surgical case.

There have been studies to show that chiropractic care and management of TMJ syndrome is effective in reducing some of the symptoms such as pain, clicking of the jaw and a locked jaw. We highly recommend you to visit the chiropractor who may be able to relieve some of your symptoms. It is also recommended seeing your dentist specialized in TMJ syndrome if conservative care is proving ineffective. They would also help advice on splints, night guards and assess for dental issues or even potential abscesses that may occur.

Temporomandibular Joint Examination

Proper assessment of the temporomandibular joint must be performed by a practitioner that is trained to do so. A comprehensive assessment includes:

Thorough case history review involves a discussion with your Chiropractor. This enables them to gain understand your problem. Questions that you may be asked include addressing aggravating activities, when the problem initially presented and if there was a specific event that caused it.
Physical examination includes assessing the jaw, skull and cervical spine. Your chiropractor will inspect and palpating these structures to assess whether they’re contributing to your TMJ disorder. Specific examination of the jaw involves palpating soft tissues of the face (muscles of mastication) assessing pain, tenderness and tonicity, palpation of the TMJ joint, muscle strength and jaw range of motion.
Orthopedic & neurological examination may be warranted to rule out potential differential diagnoses.

Chiropractic Jaw Pain Treatment

There are a variety of fantastic techniques which chiropractors can use to treat jaw pain. Look below for details regarding particular therapies which you may receive in order to manage your problem:

TMJ manipulation is a similar technique to traditional chiropractic manipulation however it’s specifically applied to the jaw to restore normal position, alignment, movement, reduce pain and tenderness.
TMJ joint stretching & mobilization is a gentle technique designed to improve restricted movement.

Activator methods use a hand held instrument that is specific for the chiropractic profession. Clients often refer to know the Activator as the ‘clicker’ instrument. Chiropractors use this instrument to gently improve joint function.

Soft tissue massage to the inside and outside of the jaw assists with releasing tension and pain.

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