Physical therapists are musculoskeletal specialists that typically see a variety of issues related to the spine and extremities. One joint that most do not realize physical therapists are qualified to treat includes the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). TMJ is essentially the joint of the jaw. TMJ dysfunction can be categorized as frequent popping or clicking in the jaw, difficulty chewing, or generalized pain in the jaw area.
How can physical therapists help? As movement specialists, physical therapists will work to evaluate your jaw movement and mobility. The cervical spine, or neck, is often correlated with TMJ dysfunction and will be evaluated as well. Certain muscles may have increased tension causing jaw deviation which would be corrected. Posture also plays an important role in potential TMJ issues. There are specific exercises targeting muscles in the neck and upper back that a physical therapist may prescribe based on certain strength deficits a patient presents with.
There are also a series of manual therapy techniques that may be utilized to help improve TMJ dysfunction. Myofascial release or soft tissue massage can be utilized for specific muscles in the face and jaw to release muscular tension that could be causing TMJ dysfunction. Trigger point dry needling is another technique certified physical therapists can use which can be very effective in releasing trigger points localized in the jaw and neck.
With a physical therapist evaluation, your PT will provide a customized plan based on your symptom presentation for jaw pain. Overall, physical therapists are qualified providers that can be utilized to help assist and treat jaw pain.