What is TMJ Physical Therapy

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Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, commonly referred to as TMJ, involves conditions affecting the jaw joint and muscles in chewing and opening the mouth. TMJ can lead to severe facial pain, difficulty opening the mouth, clicking, locking, popping sounds in the jaw, headaches, neck aches, ear pain, and more. 

While TMJ is traditionally treated with dental appliances, injections, or surgery, physical therapy is emerging as an effective drug-free option that can relieve pain and restore normal jaw function. In this article, we will explore the purpose and advantages of TMJ therapy and how Physical Therapy in Ashburn, VA, can assist you in finding relief.

Causes of TMJ Disorders

TMJ disorders can stem from injury or trauma to the jaw, anatomy mismatches in how the upper and lower teeth fit together, muscle tension in the jaw and neck, grinding or clenching of teeth, poor posture, stress, anxiety, or arthritis in the jaw joint.

The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jawbone to the skull. It relies on the coordinated function of ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves for proper mobility. Dysfunction of any of these structures can disrupt this delicate system and impair TMJ.

Physical Therapy Evaluation

A physical therapist performs a thorough evaluation of the TMJ and surrounding structures. They will assess the jaw range of motion and opening capacity. The PT checks for tightness or trigger points in the muscles of the face, jaw, neck, and shoulders, which may be contributing to dysfunction. 

Your bite alignment will be analyzed. Posture assessment identifies any imbalances, as poor posture can strain the TMJ. Your therapist considers the findings to design a customized TMJ therapy program targeting the source of your pain and limited function.

Multimodal TMJ Treatment Approach

Physical therapists employ various hands-on manual therapy techniques, therapeutic exercises, modalities, and patient education to maximize outcomes with TMJ dysfunctions. A combination of therapies is more effective than any single approach alone.

Manual Therapy Techniques

Manual techniques applied by your therapist are aimed at improving the mobility of the TMJ and relaxing the muscles involved in jaw movement and positioning. 

Methods like gentle joint mobilization or manipulation, soft tissue mobilization, trigger point release, and myofascial release help relieve muscle tightness and restrictions around the temporomandibular joint. Massage can also reduce spasms.

Therapeutic Exercises

Structured therapeutic activities are an essential part of TMJ physical therapy in Ashburn

Specific exercises will be prescribed to stretch and strengthen the jaw and neck musculature, restore normal joint mobility, retrain proper mouth and tongue positioning, and improve posture. 

At State of the Art Physical, Your PT will have you practice jaw stretches and exercises in all planes of motion to improve opening, closing, protrusion, and lateral movements. Postural and neck exercises address imbalances.

Neuromuscular Re-education

Neuromuscular re-education techniques help retrain the complex jaw muscles’ optimal alignment and coordinated firing patterns. Your PT uses touch cures, biofeedback, and exercises to re-establish proper control and movement of the muscles for balanced chewing and jaw motions. This improves function.

Pain Relief Modalities

Modalities like superficial heat, ice, ultrasound, TENS, and laser therapy can be used to alleviate muscle spasms and TMJ pain before performing exercises. Modalities promote relaxation of the jaw muscles and increase local blood flow to assist with manual techniques.

Patient Education

Education ensures you understand how to manage your TMJ dysfunction and prevent future flare-ups. Your Physical Therapist will provide instructions for self-care strategies regarding diet modification, proper sleeping positions, icing techniques, stress management, postural correction, and ergonomics. You’ll learn to avoid habits that strain your TMJ.

Customized Home Exercise Program

Your therapist will regularly assign TMJ exercises to practice at home between therapy visits. A home program including jaw stretches and exercises, cervical range of motion, and postural corrections allows you to participate in your recovery actively. Performing the exercises consistently is key to reducing your pain and improving function over time.

When to Expect Results with TMJ PT?

It takes time for the tissues surrounding the temporomandibular joint to respond to therapy. Most patients start to experience gradual relief of pain and improved jaw mobility within 4-6 weeks of consistent physical therapy treatment. Completing your home exercise program as prescribed is critical for seeing results. Your PT will adjust your schedule as needed over the course of care.

Conclusion

TMJ physical therapy aims to provide long-lasting relief by addressing the underlying mechanical causes of your pain and dysfunction rather than just temporary fixes for symptoms. With continued exercise and postural corrections after finishing formal therapy, you can maintain the improvements in your TMJ function.

If you are suffering from debilitating TMJ pain and impairment, consider physical therapy from a specialist in jaw rehabilitation. They can design customized exercise and manual therapy plans to meet your needs without drugs or surgery.

Contact Physical Therapy for personalized TMJ treatment in Ashburn, VA. Their experienced physical therapists offer specialized therapy for temporomandibular joint disorders. They will help you find lasting relief from TMJ pain and restore normal jaw function.

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