Middle age woman in pain suffering toothache touching face sitting on a couch at home

Jaw Pain? Physical Therapy Can Help

It’s jaw-dropping information, but believe it!

We all know that physical therapists treat the musculoskeletal system – bones, joints and muscles. So that includes knees, backs, shoulders . . . and jaws?

That’s right. The Temporomandibular Joint, better known as TMJ, is the hinge joint in front of the ear on each side that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull. It’s in use constantly and consistently throughout the day. In fact, it’s the most-used joint in your body!

The TMJ opens and closes the mouth, as well as slides back and forth. Think about it: every time you eat, talk, sing, yawn, gape, chew on something, kiss, set your jaw sternly, or just kind of idly move your mouth, you’re using your TMJ.

But unlike the knees or back, we don’t ordinarily think of it as being a joint. And so it’s a surprise when jaw pain sets in. But  Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) are as common as cardiac issues, and can be debilitating. Jaw pain and physical therapy are as common on the TMJ as they are in any other part of your system. Luckily, there are TMJ treatments that provide jaw pain relief, so that you can go on singing, chewing, laughing, kissing, and everything else without any pain.

Jaw Pain Causes & Symptoms

So why does lower jaw pain start? Well, there are a number of reasons. The one that we think of the most is grinding our teeth, often a byproduct of stress. It is true that it can cause jaw pain (and is terrible for your teeth), but there are other causes.

Periodontal diseases often lead to chronic jaw pain. Any head or mouth injury can impact the TMJ. Due to the proximity and connection with the ears, sinus infections can have radiating impacts, resulting in jaw pain by the ear.

While it is uncommon, it is possible to develop arthritis of the TMJ. And a rare but still possible injury is a fracture to the actual articular disc. Displacement due to injury of this disc is more common.

There can be sudden jaw pain or chronic throbbing jaw pain. It shouldn’t be ignored. Regardless of cause, there are some common symptoms of TMDs. These include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the face, jaw joint area, neck, shoulders and ears when you move your jaw (especially when chewing or speaking)
  • Limited ability to open the mouth wide, or the joint locks in the open or closed position
  • Clicking or popping sounds
  • Tired feeling in the face
  • Jaw pain headaches
  • Dizziness

It’s possible that TMJ home treatment will work. But in some cases, jaw therapy, and even jaw surgery, are needed to find relief.

Tips for TMD Pain Treatment

For the temporary discomfort of TMD, here are some things that can help promote jaw pain relief:

  • Heat or ice
  • Eat soft foods
  • Medicate to reduce pain and swelling
  • Avoid excessive yawning and chewing
  • Avoid resting your chin on your hand
  • Keep your teeth apart to relieve pressure on the jaw
  • Improve posture
  • Learn relaxation techniques

Of course, these are just basic measures, and they might not provide long-term jaw pain treatment. For that, there is physical therapy.

What Can Physical Therapy for Jaw Pain Do?

When these basic treatment options prove unsuccessful, physical therapy may be the answer!

To be sure, there are other more drastic measures, but for expense and quality of life it is better not to have to resort to that. Instead of resorting to trigger point injections or surgery, patients can be treated by specially trained physical therapists who utilize soft tissue mobilization, massage, manual therapy, ultrasound, and electro-stimulation modalities to relieve and correct the symptoms of TMD.

Advocating For Your Own Jaw Care

Talk to your physician, dentist or oral surgeon about physical therapy for jaw pain as an option for your problems. While many involve physical therapy during the care of their patients, your doctor may not be aware of its benefits.

Some patients who do take the surgical route are referred by their oral surgeon or orthopedic surgeon to do post-operative rehab for the joint; this helps improve the outcome of their surgery. So, if you are a surgical candidate, be sure you choose a surgeon who recommends PT for jaw pain for their patients!

Home Exercises: The exercises and stretches learned during physical therapy are a valuable tool that can help you if symptoms should ever return. You will know how to manage symptoms on your own.

Get TMJ Treatment At Home

TMJ home treatment is a continuation of the therapy you received, or a chance to work on accelerated steps even during times when you are socially distant. Some of these treatments can include:

  • Goldfish. This is where you open and close your mouth forming a slight “O”. The key here is to place one finger on your mandible (the hinge of the TMJ) and the other on your chin. There will be a little resistance, but not much. This can be fully or half open, depending on your level of pain
  • Relaxing. Press your tongue to the top of your mouth and relax your jaw muscles, causing your mouth to gently fall open. Let it open to the point of discomfort, but don’t force anything.
  • Resistance: Open. Put your thumb under your chin and push gently as you open your mouth. This is essentially like resistance training as part of your TMJ exercises, only without the big rubber bands.
  • Resistance: Close. Here you’ll use both hands to grasp your chin with your forefingers and thumb while your mouth is open. Pull gently as you close it.

These are just a few TMJ exercises you can do at home. Of course, it is ideal if you are able to continue TMJ treatment at home with an online physical therapist. That way, they can walk you through the steps that will help ensure your jaw hurts no more.

Conclusion – Lake Shore Physical Therapy

Ultimately, physical therapy can help you heal and recover from a wide variety of disorders and injuries. At Lake Shore Physical Therapy, our mission is to guide our patients towards complete, painless recoveries and help restore their mobility and independence. To schedule your first, one-on-one consultation with one of our certified physical therapists, contact Lake Shore Physical Therapy today!