Written by: Rachel Cameron, PT, DPT
Have you ever suffered from pain in your jaw or clicking/popping when you open your mouth or chew food? What about stiffness or tightness in your jaw or face when talking, chewing or belting out to your favorite song in your car? If so, you may be suffering from dysfunction of your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Recent research estimates that more than 17 million people in the United States suffer from temporomandibular disorders currently. The temporomandibular joints are two of the most frequently used joints in the body but do not seem to get much attention in the medical field and can be overlooked at times. I am here to remedy that!
Each person has two temporomandibular joints, one on each side of the jaw and it is important to know that they work hand- in- hand with each other. Dysfunction on one side of the jaw is often caused by or can lead to pain or symptoms felt within the opposite side. Each joint consists of the meeting or articulation of your jaw bone (mandible) to your skull (cranium). Between these two bones lies a disc, which is a small fibrous structure that allows for symmetry and smooth mobility within the joint.
There are several types of dysfunction that can often lead to pain and symptoms within the TMJ. In general, patients often suffer from what we call hypermobility of the joint or hypomobility of the joint. Hypermobility of the TMJ can be explained as having excessive movement at the joint which can include clicking or popping when your mouth is opened wide in addition to pain that occurs. Hypomobility of the TMJ can be explained by tightness or inability to open your mouth without complaints of tightness or pulling. This can often be caused by tightness within the joint itself or tightness within the muscles that surround your jaw and aide you in activities like talking or chewing food. Please keep in mind, beyond these two main categories, there can be other causative factors for dysfunction that may need to be considered.
Your posture can play a significant role in TMJ dysfunction and could possibly be the reason why you may be having this pain and limitation. Though it may not seem connected, your neck and head positioning can greatly affect your TMJ. The body is an amazing thing. I am going to give you some very basic postural exercises that can help address these impairments and re-educate your body.