Balancer Spotlight: TMJ Therapy

practitioner doing tmj therapy on young girl

For most people, second-nature actions like chewing, talking, and laughing are things we can do without even thinking about it. But for some people with a condition called TMJ disorder, these simple acts can be difficult and actually cause a lot of pain.

 

Let’s take a look at what TMJ is and how you can manage it with a variety of different therapeutic approaches.

 

What is TMJ?

TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint. This is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull. It acts like a hinge, and it requires all the different parts of the bones and tissues involved in the joint to work smoothly together.1

 

But sometimes, problems can occur that lead to the joint no longer functioning smoothly. And as a result, that can cause uncomfortable symptoms. For many people, these symptoms are temporary and don’t signal a serious problem. But for others, these symptoms can be quite significant and chronic.

 

Any condition that affects the temporomandibular joint is considered a TMJ disorder, or TMJ dysfunction. Some people refer to these disorders as simply TMJ for short. People with TMJ disorder experience pain or discomfort in their jaw joint and in the muscles that move their jaw, along with other issues such as difficulty chewing.

 

TMJ disorder symptoms, causes, and diagnosis

If you have TMJ disorder, you may experience a wide range of symptoms. Some will likely relate specifically to your jaw, and others may relate to other areas of your body like the head, neck, or face, for example.

 

Common symptoms of TMJ dysfunction include:

  • Pain, tenderness, or discomfort in the jaw area
  • Decreased range of motion, stiffness, or locking of the jaw
  • Aching facial pain
  • Ear pain or a feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Clicking or grating sounds when the jaw opens or closes
  • A misaligned bite (upper and lower teeth not fitting together well)
  • Headaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Vision problems1 2 3

 

A wide variety of factors can influence the health of the jaw joint and increase your risk of having a TMJ disorder. These include genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors, for example.2

 

woman holding jaw in pain

 

In many cases, the root cause of TMJ can be hard to pinpoint, but experts believe that TMJ disorders might be caused by factors such as:

  • Injuries or forceful impact to the face and jaw
  • Overuse of the chewing muscles
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Infections
  • Dental complications
  • Arthritis
  • Teeth clenching (bruxism)1 2 3

 

A TMJ disorder is diagnosed based on a thorough review of a person’s medical and dental history and records. Your healthcare provider will need to assess your health as a whole and rule out other possible medical conditions which may mimic TMJ symptoms such as ear infections, different types of headaches, and others.

 

What is TMJ therapy?

TMJ therapy refers to a wide range of therapeutic approaches that can be used to treat and manage a TMJ disorder. TMJ specialists can help you to assess your symptoms and come up with appropriate treatment options to help you find relief.

 

The goals of TMJ therapy often include:

  • Strengthening jaw or facial muscles
  • Relaxing tight muscles
  • Adjusting alignment
  • Improving posture
  • Retraining your muscles for proper movement
  • Increasing range of motion
  • Reducing pain

 

Oftentimes, physical therapists specialize in TMJ and can offer support. In fact, physical therapy has shown very promising results for TMJ disorders4 With TMJ physical therapy, you may do jaw exercises to strengthen your muscles and improve flexibility of the joint, you may be trained in how to improve your posture or alignment, or your therapist may manually move the joint or use techniques to relax certain muscles involved in the problem.5

 

Manual therapy, in particular, is a technique known to help decrease pain and increase range of motion for people with TMJ dysfunction.6 7 8 In fact, one systematic review of studies on TMJ found that manual therapy was considered the most effective treatment for TMJ disorders.6

 

What to expect from TMJ therapy

dentist showing patient tmj splint

If you consult with a TMJ specialist, you may be offered a wide range of different types of support. During the session, you may be given treatments like physical therapy, manual therapy, or massage therapy—alone or in combination with one another.

 

A TMJ therapist may also use a variety of techniques like heat therapy, ice therapy, massage therapy, TENS units, and trigger-point release techniques.5 They might advise you to consider orthodontics or dental appliances as well.

 

You might also be given exercises or activities you can do yourself at home, and you may be instructed on various self-care techniques.

 

So that you know what to expect, it is important to discuss with your provider ahead of time how they will approach your unique condition and what types of treatments and techniques they suggest to help you find relief.

 

Other options to consider

TMJ therapy can lessen symptoms or even get rid of them completely.5

 

But everyone is different, and not everyone gets the same results from the same approach. So, you may want to consider a wide range of options to help you find relief from your symptoms.

 

There are many different tools, tricks, and treatments that can support you in your journey. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Give your jaw a break. Experts suggest eating soft foods, avoiding chewing gum, and limiting extreme jaw movements. Try to allow your jaw to be in a relaxed, neutral position as much as possible.
  • Use heat and cold. Heating pads or ice packs can help to relieve pain and discomfort.
  • Reduce stress. Stress management and relaxation techniques can be very important if you have TMJ disorder, as your symptoms may at least in part be caused by clenching your teeth or holding tension in your jaw.
  • Become aware of bad habits that can make TMJ pain worse, such as biting your nails, chewing your lips, resting your chin on your hand, and grinding or clenching your teeth.
  • Consider psychotherapy. Behavioral techniques to address mental health such as cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of counseling can be an effective treatment for TMJ disorder.
  • Consider alternative therapies such as acupuncture or massage to manage your symptoms.
  • Try a bite guard. Also referred to as an occlusal splint or a nightguard, a bite guard can help to prevent clenching and protect your teeth and jaw. Consult with a dentist to see if a custom-made dental split would be helpful for you.
  • If necessary, consult with a medical professional to discuss other treatment options. Some people elect to use prescription medications or even surgery to get their TMJ symptoms under control, but these are only recommended in extreme cases that have not responded to other, less invasive options.3 6 9

 

TMJ Therapy balancer Virtual Item

Along with many other wellness services, a ZYTO scan allows you to see how the body responded to a digital signature representing TMJ Therapy. If TMJ Therapy shows up in the top services on your report, you may want to look into pursuing this therapy.

 

If TMJ Therapy shows up as a top wellness service, however, it doesn’t mean that you have a TMJ disorder. ZYTO scanning is not diagnostic, but instead allows you to see how your body responded energetically to Virtual Items representing various wellness options. So even if you don’t have a TMJ disorder, the therapy may help you find better balance with your health, or at the very least can be a good talking point to discover why your body responded to it in a positive, or coherent, way.

 

 

 

About Chelsea Clark
Chelsea Clark is a writer and certified health and wellness coach who is passionate about supporting others along their own health journeys. She enjoys helping people make positive, lasting changes so that they can live the happiest, healthiest life possible.

 

 

 

Sources:

1. “TMJ disorders.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Mayoclinic.org.

2. “TMJ Basics.” TMJ Association. TMJ.org.

3. “TMJ Disorders.” National Institutes of Health. Nidcr.nih.gov.

4. Paço, M., B. Peleteiro, J. Duarte, & T. Pinho. “The Effectiveness of Physiotherapy in the Management of Temporomandibular Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Journal of Oral & Facial Pain and Headache 30, no. 3 (2016): 210–220.

5. “Physical Therapy for Temporomandibular Joint Disorders.” Regents of the University of Michigan Health. Uofmhealth.com.

6. Al-Moraissi E.A., P. Conti, A. Alyahya, et al. “The hierarchy of different treatments for myogenous temporomandibular disorders: a systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials.” Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (2021).

7. Herrera-Valencia, A., M. Ruiz-Muñoz, et al. “Efficacy of Manual Therapy in Temporomandibular Joint Disorders and Its Medium-and Long-Term Effects on Pain and Maximum Mouth Opening: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”  Journal of Clinical Medicine 9, no. 11 (2021): 3404.

8. Martins, W.R., J.C. Blasczyk, et al.. Efficacy of musculoskeletal manual approach in the treatment of temporomandibular joint disorder: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Manual Therapy 21 (2016): 10–7.

9. “TMJ Pain Relief: 8 Best Practices to Help Manage Temporomandibular Joint Disorders.” The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. Pennmedicine.org.

 

The information provided in this article is intended to improve, not replace, the direct relationship between the client (or site visitor) and healthcare professionals.

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