physiotherapy for tmj surrey

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are a common source of pain and discomfort for many individuals. Understanding what TMJ is, how physiotherapy can help treat it, and the best massage techniques for TMJ relief are essential for managing this condition effectively. This blog provides an in-depth look at physiotherapy treatment options for TMJ, as well as important lifestyle considerations for those suffering from TMJ disorders.


What is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull, located in front of each ear. This joint enables movements necessary for chewing, speaking, and yawning. 

TMJ disorders, known as TMD (temporomandibular disorders), include conditions affecting the jaw joint and surrounding muscles. Common causes of TMD include trauma or injury to the jaw or head, which can damage the TMJ or surrounding muscles, and arthritis, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, which can affect the TMJ, leading to pain and dysfunction. 

Chronic teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism) puts excessive pressure on the TMJ, while dislocation of the disc within the joint causes pain and limits movement. Stress increases muscle tension in the jaw, exacerbating TMJ symptoms. 

Symptoms of TMJ disorders vary, often including jaw pain or tenderness, difficulty chewing, clicking or popping sounds when opening or closing the mouth, lockjaw, and frequent headaches or earaches. Understanding these factors is crucial for treating and managing TMJ disorders effectively.


The Role of Physiotherapy in Treating TMJ

Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in managing TMJ disorders by addressing the underlying causes, reducing pain, and improving function. Here’s how physiotherapy can help:

  • Manual Therapy: Techniques such as gentle soft tissue massage help improve joint function, reduce muscle tension, and enhance blood flow.
  • Joint Mobilizations (Intra-Oral and Extra-Oral): Intra-oral mobilizations involve the physiotherapist using gloved fingers to apply pressure and mobilize the muscles and joints inside the mouth. This technique targets the internal structures of the TMJ, providing direct relief from tension and improving joint mobility. Extra-oral mobilizations are performed externally, focusing on manipulating the jaw, neck, and surrounding tissues to enhance overall joint function and reduce pain.
  • Pain Relief: Physiotherapists use various modalities, such as heat and cold therapy, ultrasound, and acupuncture to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles.
  • Exercise Prescription: Tailored exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles around the TMJ, improve jaw mobility, and reduce muscle tension. These exercises may include gentle stretching, resistance exercises, and relaxation techniques.
  • Postural Education: Physiotherapists provide guidance on maintaining proper posture, which can reduce strain on the TMJ and prevent symptoms from worsening.
  • Education and Self-Management: Clients receive advice on lifestyle modifications, stress management techniques, and self-care strategies to manage symptoms and prevent recurrence.


Activities to Avoid with TMJ

Certain activities can exacerbate TMJ symptoms and should be avoided to prevent further irritation and pain. Here are some key activities to avoid:

  • Foods that are hard, crunchy, or require excessive chewing can strain the TMJ. Opt for softer foods that are easier to chew.
  • Avoid opening your mouth too wide when yawning, as this can put additional stress on the jaw joint.
  • If you grind or clench your teeth excessively, a condition called bruxism, seek treatment or use a mouthguard to protect your jaw and teeth.
  • Chewing gum can increase muscle tension and strain the TMJ.
  • Avoid habits like resting your chin on your hand, which can misalign the jaw and increase tension.


How Long Does TMJ Take to Heal?

The healing time for TMJ disorders varies widely based on the severity, underlying cause, and treatment approach. TMJ symptoms can improve significantly within a few weeks to a few months with consistent treatment. 

Mild TMJ disorders may resolve with conservative treatment in a few weeks, while severe cases can take several months to heal. Consistent adherence to physiotherapy exercises, lifestyle changes, and self-care practices can expedite recovery. 

Conditions like arthritis or chronic bruxism may require longer treatment durations and ongoing management. Following your physiotherapist’s recommendations and being patient is essential, as individual responses to treatment vary.


Managing TMJ Symptoms: Tips for Sleeping

Sleeping positions and habits can significantly impact TMJ symptoms. Here are some tips for sleeping with TMJ to reduce discomfort and promote healing:

  • Sleep on Your Back: Sleeping on your back is generally the best position for TMJ, as it minimizes pressure on the jaw. Use a supportive pillow to keep your head and neck aligned.
  • Avoid Sleeping on Your Stomach: Sleeping on your stomach can put strain on the jaw and neck, exacerbating TMJ symptoms.
  • Use a Pillow Between Your Knees: If you prefer sleeping on your side, place a pillow between your knees to keep your spine aligned and reduce tension in the jaw and neck.
  • Choose the Right Pillow: Use a pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck and head, helping to maintain proper alignment and reduce strain on the TMJ.
  • Relax Before Bed: Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or gentle stretching before bed to reduce muscle tension and stress.


Exercises to Help Manage TMJ Pain

Exercise can play a crucial role in managing TMJ pain by improving jaw mobility, reducing muscle tension, and strengthening the muscles around the TMJ. Here are some effective exercises for TMJ:

  • Jaw Relaxation Exercise: Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and slowly open and close your mouth. This exercise helps relax the jaw muscles and improve mobility.
  • Chin Tucks: Sit or stand with your shoulders back and chest up. Gently tuck your chin down and back, creating a “double chin” appearance. Hold for a few seconds and repeat 10 times. This exercise helps strengthen the muscles around the TMJ and improve posture.
  • Resisted Mouth Opening: Place your thumb under your chin and gently push up while slowly opening your mouth. Hold for a few seconds and then close your mouth. Repeat 10 times. This exercise strengthens the muscles that control mouth opening.
  • Side-to-Side Jaw Movement: Place an object like a pen or pencil between your teeth. Slowly move your jaw from side to side. This exercise helps improve lateral jaw movement and reduce stiffness.
  • Goldfish Exercise: Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and one finger on your TMJ. Open your mouth halfway and then fully, feeling the stretch in the jaw muscles. Repeat 10 times for each side.

Incorporating these exercises into your daily routine, along with regular physiotherapy sessions, can significantly improve TMJ symptoms and enhance overall jaw function.


Stop Letting Jaw Pain Ruin Your Day

TMJ disorders can be challenging to manage but with the right combination of physiotherapy, lifestyle changes, and targeted exercises, significant relief and recovery are possible. Understanding the healing timeline, adopting proper sleeping habits, and making lifestyle modifications can all contribute to effective TMJ management and long-term health.

If you’re experiencing TMJ disorders, Pure Life Physiotherapy & Health Centre is here to help. Our Surrey team provides personalized treatment plans tailored to your needs. Contact us today to schedule your first visit and we’ll help you find lasting relief from jaw pain!