What is TMD and TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint of the jaw where the lower jaw (mandible) meets the skull below the temples. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD) is a combination of jaw pain, neck pain, headaches, and earaches associated with unhealthy movement patterns , clicking, popping or locking of the jaw. These disorders affect nearly 10 million Americans, but can be effectively managed through physical therapy.

Physical Therapy and TMD

Research has shown that physical therapy can help manage jaw pain related to TMD. In order to provide you with the best care, your physical therapist will perform an evaluation of your jaw and neck and determine the treatment pathway that fits YOUR specific dysfunction.

At Body One, we emphasize education of the condition to our patients as the first step of management. Further, we will explore areas such as posture correction, diet, mobilization and relaxation, and overall joint strength and flexibility. We believe in working with your dentist or orthodontist to provide the best advice and care possible.

Common Causes

  • Trauma from a dental procedure, direct blow to the head, face, or jaw, or whiplash from a car accident.
  • Poor posture from sitting most of the day at work or at home.
  • Stress that causes clenching of the jaw during the day or bruxing at night.
  • Osteoarthritis – more stress on the joint than able to handle.

Common Symptoms

  • Pain in the chewing muscles and/or jaw joint or jaw muscle stiffness.
  • Noticeable and frequent clicking, popping, or locking of the jaw while eating or talking.
  • Frequent headaches that could be similar to tension headaches.
  • Ear fullness, earaches, or ringing in the ears.

CAUTION: Jaw pain also can be a symptom of heart attack. Seek medical care immediately if jaw pain is accompanied by:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Left arm pain
  • Numbness in the left arm
  • Nausea

Our TMD specialists have provided multiple educational presentations for Dental Professionals regarding physical therapy for TMJ dysfunction. If you, your dental practice or professional organization would be interested in having one of our therapists present on this topic, please contact us at or


Slide Over the past couple of years, I have had the pleasure of working with Punam Hills in the care of my dental patients. When I have patients experiencing TMD, jaw and facial pain, neuromuscular headaches, and neck and shoulder pain, my first consideration is to refer them for physical therapy. I definitely prefer her treatment over committing my patients to having to wear some type of oral appliance. Punam is very conscientious and thorough in her consultations and exams. She keeps me updated on their treatment and progress. I can honestly say that I have multiple patients who are very grateful for the referral and then for the treatment that they receive. I also should add that I have been a patient of Punam on multiple occasions. I suffer from arthritis in my neck (probably due to 40 years of practicing dentistry) and Punam’s healing hands have enabled me to continue doing what I love! I have experienced her massage, muscle manipulations, Graston, and dry needling to name a few of her techniques. She applies different modalities each time depending on my area of pain. Thank you, Punam, on behalf of myself and my patients! - Nancy Halsema DDS, Carmel West Dentistry Slide “Chelsea is amazing! I was so stressed due to issues with my jaw. She not only helped me with massaging, acupressure, and exercises to help fix the issue, but also made me feel comfortable and reassured me that it would get better. She really helped me to relax which was a huge part of my recovery. If I ever need physical therapy again, I will definitely be going back to Body One.” – Anonymous Slide “I was very hesitant to start physical therapy after months of painful, costly, and what I felt at the time, to be largely unsuccessful treatment of my TMJ. I felt it would be yet another expense for little or no result. I couldn’t have been more wrong. To say that Punam has changed my life wouldn’t be an over statement. When I started treatment with her at Body One I couldn’t get through an evening without significant pain, and that was while wearing my splint. Now I only need to wear my splint to sleep. Punam has taught me easy strategies that can be used just about any time or any place. Although I still have discomfort at times, the difference is dramatic. Punam is patient, kind and seems very knowledgeable. She listens to my concerns and always takes my needs into account. Punam regularly attends continuing education courses. I have been very impressed with her skill level and I feel I truly benefit from her services. I just wish I had been referred to her before other treatment options or at least in conjunction with them. I think I would have progressed much more quickly and with far less pain and discomfort. I have recommended Punam many times and consider it a privilege to share my experience. I would strongly encourage anyone with TMJ to consult with Punam at Body One Physical Therapy.” – Anonymous Slide “My TMJ journey began in Fall 2002 after having been rear-ended and rear-ending someone else coupled with the stress of grad school and life. After many treatment modalities – some of which provided short-term relief, some of which made it worse – I ended up getting a prosthetic jaw in December 2018. I had nerve complications from a controlled break (sagittal split osteotomy) on the other side to finally allow me to have an even bite. While my bite was fixed and the prosthesis allowed for a generally pain-free right side, the nerve damage and left side joint was getting increasingly more painful. I had various other Physical Therapists treat me and, while none were bad, I am certainly not a textbook case. Enter Dr. Hills! From my first visit, it was clear that Dr. Hills was carefully evaluating me and planning accordingly (as I’m certain she does all patients). She developed a treatment plan specific to my situation and needs, adjusting it based on my response to each session. I had surgery for my nerve 6 months ago and she’s had to do a significant amount of thinking on her feet, reading my body language, ensuring she’s treating appropriately all while taking care to avoid causing me any additional discomfort. I am through my “insurance allotted” number of PT sessions so I am now opting to pay out-of-pocket… stopping PT isn’t an option, in my mind! Dr. Hills literally keeps me upright and functioning. As most people have experienced, life throws curveballs and often times, they are stressful curveballs. I tend to internalize said stress which exacerbates my already dysfunctional head and neck area. I am not exaggerating when I say there are days I would not be able to get out of bed if it weren’t for Dr. Hills mastery of her skill. I, along with my Surgeon and Orthodontist, are incredibly careful when it comes to allowing anyone to come near my face/jaw simply because of the risk of further, more extensive damage. I trust Dr. Hills implicitly and know when I walk out of Body One after a session with her, I will be significantly better than when I walked in.” – Anonymous

Featured Real-Life Experience

Katherine is a professional musician with a busy day filled with lengthy personal practice sessions and teaching student lessons. She spends many hours sitting or standing with her clarinet, sometimes hanging from a support strap around her neck while she plays. At some point she started feeling stiffness in the jaw and neck area, which was soon followed by pain and discomfort. She played through it.