Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain is a challenging diagnosis to manage. TMJ pain and dysfunction can be caused by an increase in tone to local mastication (chewing) muscles including the pterygoids and masseter as well as a dysfunction within the joint capsule and articular disc. People with TMJ dysfunction may have complaints of pain, clicking/popping, dull ache, headaches, or earaches.
The first steps to alleviating the pain may include reduction in excessive mastication (reducing hard foods or “chewy” foods from diet), wearing a night guard, and/or physical therapy. Physical therapy is a great resource for those who have not seen a reduction in pain with changes in daily routines.
As physical therapists, we are trained in proper techniques to mobilize immobile joints, stretch inflexible tissue, and strengthen weakened muscles. This applies to all joints including the TMJ.
During the evaluation, your physical therapist will assess both your TMJ and your cervical spine (neck). A lot of the time, the cervical spine plays a major role in the function of your TMJ. The upper cervical spine positioning can impact the position of your jaw when you are sitting and thus can impact your chewing. We will assess your cervical joints and TMJ mobility, range of motion in your neck and jaw, muscle strength and tenderness to palpation. As with any injury, we will treat the impairments that we find and focus our treatments around your goals. This may include joint mobilization to the upper neck and/or TMJ, strengthening exercises for the cervical stabilizers, stretching to muscles of upper neck and those that attach near the TMJ, and education. Your physical therapist may also include dry needling if it is prescribed by your dentist or physician.
Dry needling includes the insertion of fine needles into myofascial structures to help reduce hypertonicity, pain, and inflammation. For TMJ pain, your physical therapist may insert needles directly into the muscles of mastication which include pterygoids, masseter as well as the joint capsule. She/he may also insert them into the suboccipital muscles (upper neck). Depending on the level of severity, your physical therapist may hook the needles to an electrical stimulation unit to break down the tissue more. The side effects may include local soreness and redness. Dry needling is a safe and effective way to treat TMJ dysfunctions.
If you or someone you love is experiencing TMJ pain with little relief, call us today to schedule your appointment. We can treat most insurances for up to 30 days without a prescription. However, if you need dry needling, (which we recommend!) you will need a prescription from your dentist, family practitioner, or other referral source.