Temporomandibular joint disorder, or dysfunction, (TMD) is a common condition that limits the natural functions of the jaw, such as opening the mouth and chewing. It causes range from poor posture, chronic jaw clenching, and poor teeth alignment, to fracture or conditions such as lockjaw, where the muscles around the jaw spasm and reduce the opening of the mouth. Physical therapists help people with TMD ease pain, regain normal jaw movement, and lessen daily stress on the jaw. The focus of physical therapy for temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) is relaxation, stretching, and releasing tight muscles and scar tissue. Physical therapy is an especially important part of recovery from TM joint disorders, as it helps minimize scar tissue formation, muscle tightness and improve posture of the head and joints.
Physical therapy treatments may include:
Your physical therapist will teach you special “low-load” exercises that don’t exert a lot of pressure on your TMJ, but can strengthen the muscles of the jaw and restore a more natural, pain-free motion.
- Posture Education - If you sit with your head in an increased forward position, you are placing greater strain on the muscles beneath your chin, causing the lower jaw to pull back and the mouth to be in an open position even when resting, increasing stress on the TMJ. You also might be overworking the jaw muscles to force the jaw closed so your mouth isn’t open all the time. Your physical therapist will teach you to be aware of your posture so that you can improve the resting position of your jaw, head, neck, breastbone, and shoulder blades when you’re sitting and walking.
- Improving Jaw Movement - Physical therapists use skilled hands-on techniques (manual therapy) to gently increase movement and relieve pain in tissues and joints.
Your physical therapist may use manual therapy to stretch the jaw in order to restore normal joint and muscle flexibility or break up scar tissues (“adhesions”) that sometimes develop when there is constant injury.
- Special Pain Treatments - If your pain is severe, your physical therapist may provide treatments, such as electrical stimulation or ultrasound to reduce it.
PT treatment in conjunction with Dr. Boucher’s splint/TMD therapy (“bite guards”), that create a natural resting position to relax the TMJ, relieve pain, and improve jaw function, would bring your bite and TMD symptoms into a comfort zone.
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