How Physical Therapy Can Improve Jaw Pain

Young Woman Holding the Side of Her Face in Pain

Jaw pain, also known as temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD), is a common problem affecting about 10 million people in the United States.   It has been shown that 50-75% of the population will have at least one symptom of TMD at some point in their life.  Jaw pain may involve the joint itself, and/or the muscles surrounding the joint that are used for chewing, speaking, and swallowing.

There are many causes of TMD but the most common include:

  • Trauma
    • Direct:  blow to the jaw or recent dental procedure
    • Indirect:  whiplash from a motor vehicle accident
    • Clenching throughout the day and/or grinding teeth at night
    • Poor sitting posture
    • Stress
    • Osteoarthritis of the joint

Typical signs and symptoms of TMD include:

  • Pain in the jaw
  • Locking (unable to completely open or close the jaw)
  • Clicking
  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Earache
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty swallowing

Standard management of TMD should involve a collaborative approach between a dental professional and a physical therapist.  From a dental perspective, treatment typically includes any of the following:  splinting and/or bracing, education, orthodontics, and medications.  Research has shown that physical therapists are able to manage TMD with treatments such as patient education, postural correction, diet modification, joint mobilization, relaxation techniques, stretching, and/or strengthening.

Your dentist and physical therapist will work together to develop a clinical diagnosis for your specific type of TMD based on medical history, pain intensity, and physical exam findings. He or she will select a treatment approach and prescribe a home exercise plan to meet your personal goals, reduce pain, and improve function.

If you have a history of jaw pain, speak with your dentist and physical therapist who can work together to develop a plan of care for your pain.