Temporomandibular joint disorder or dysfunction, TMD, is a common condition that limits your ability to open and close your jaw during chewing, yawning and talking. The joint adjoins your jaw to your skull in front of your ear. Typical conditions that can lead to TMD are poor postures, clenching teeth, poor tooth alignment, fracture, surgery, trismus (“lockjaw”), jaw fracture or trauma and disc displacement.
Poor postures can cause TMD due to maintained forward head postures typically due to office/computer work or driving. Forward head postures promote increased strain on the structures in the back of the neck such as the discs, ligaments and musculature results in poor utilization of the muscles in the front of the neck that hold our head up against gravity, strain on the temporomandibular joint due to the skull sliding forward such that the jaw must rest in the open position and the jaw tends to clench more than normal in order to close.
Clenching or bruxism (grinding teeth) is also a common problem with most people due to stress and typically occurs at night while you’re sleeping, however, can also occur during the day. Clenching overtime can cause the musculature around the joint to tighten, cause pain and limit your ability to fully open your mouth.
Poor tooth alignment, fractures, surgery, trismus and disc displacement can cause TMD symptoms because of inefficient jaw biomechanics (movement).
Fractures of the jaw due to trauma can also cause limited mouth opening due to immobilization during the healing process.
Surgery after cancer can also cause limited mouth opening due to muscle resection, radiation, guarded painful tissues and swelling.
Trismus or “lockjaw” can occur due to surgery, radiation therapy, muscle spasms, pseudotumors, arthritis or trauma. Trismus is defined as an inability to fully open your mouth. Displacement of the temporomandibular disc between the skull and the jaw can also cause poor tracking of the jaw which may result in clicking or popping noises, pain and inability to open or close the jaw depending on the positioning of the disc.
Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Symptoms
Your physical therapist can assist with your TMD symptoms via performing a comprehensive evaluation of your symptoms, past medical history including your dental history, observe your postures and habits, test your muscle strength, evaluate the range of motion and coordination of TMJ during mouth opening and closing, assess muscle tension and possible trigger points of the head, neck and TMJ. In addition, your physical therapist will utilize manual therapy techniques to improve the coordination and range of motion of mouth opening via manipulation of the soft tissues and joints of the neck and TMJ educate you on proper postures, issue exercises designed specifically to address your muscle weakness, range of motion loss and pain, utilize appropriate biofeedback and electrical stimulation to assist with relaxation and pain management as well as refer you to dental healthcare professional for further examination when appropriate.