For as many people as there are who suffer from jaw pain, very few know that physical therapy can help alleviate their symptoms, and even fewer understand how it can help. I'm here to answer some frequently asked questions about physical therapy for the TMJ, and inspire hope in those who feel like they've tried everything and are still suffering. This is the first post in a series of posts, so keep a lookout on our Facebook page for updates. And while you're there, give us a like if you haven't yet!
"So, how does physical therapy work for the jaw?"
I'm asked this question a lot! Physical therapists who are trained to treat patients with jaw (or TMJ) pain focus on the big picture in what is causing the dysfunction. The TMJ (short for temporomandibular joint) is controlled by muscles in the face and neck, and when these muscles don't function properly, it can lead to poor movement patterns which can cause painful clicking, popping, and locking in the joint. While patients often come to me with a primary complaint of pain in their jaw or face, the underlying issue is almost always their posture. Sometimes patients recall having pain in their neck or head when asked, but others forget even having pain until I bring it up!
On the first visit, I perform a thorough examination of the cervical spine, face, and jaw, and assess movement and posture. This gives me an idea of what factors are at play in the mobility of the TMJ. From there, I implement manual therapy techniques to help relax muscles and improve mobility in areas that are stiff, and also teach my patients specific exercises to help alleviate their pain and improve function between treatment sessions. Other important components to therapy treatments include muscle relaxation techniques, and neuromuscular re-education to retrain muscles to function properly, identifying habits that are detrimental to daily function, stress management solutions, and lifestyle modification.
"I wake up with headaches, my jaw hurts, and sometimes even pops and clicks when I open my mouth too far. Can I come to you for treatment?"
Absolutely! Before we get started, be sure to ask for a referral for physical therapy from your dentist, physician, or nurse practitioner. There are a few other providers who can refer you, too. When you ask them, take this form with you and have them fill it out, then email it before your first visit or have it handy at your initial evaluation. Also, check out our Getting Started page, and fill out those forms beforehand. After that, we can start getting you back to your personal pain-free best!