An Expert Guide to TMJ / TMD: Causes and Treatments

Jun 17, 2022

David Borboa

by David Borboa
PT, DPT South

TMJ disorders are physical disorders affecting the joint where your jaw meets your skull. Disorders of this joint often make opening your mouth, eating, and other daily activities painful. These issues are common and affect many people throughout the country and the world. Read on to learn more about the causes and treatments.


Before discussing the disorders, it is crucial to clarify the confusion around what exactly TMJ means. TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint between the jaw and the skull. TMD means a temporomandibular disorder. In other words, TMD is a disorder affecting the TMJ. However, most people commonly speak of “TMJ” when referring to pain associated with these disorders.

Woman suffering from jaw pain.

What Causes TMJ Disorders?

In some cases, physical trauma can cause temporomandibular disorders to develop. This might include injury from physical trauma moving the disc in the joint. In addition, the effects of arthritis wearing down the joint can lead to TMD. TMJ disorders can also be caused by an improper bite or teeth grinding. Sometimes, TMD may have no apparent cause at all.

What Are the Symptoms of TMD?

Symptoms can vary depending on the severity of specific individuals. However, if you’re in pain, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Clicking when you open and close your jaw
  • Jaw pain, mainly when opening your mouth or chewing
  • Headaches
  • Neck and ear pain
  • Joint locking, meaning you may be unable to open or close your mouth

How Are TMJ Disorders Most Effectively Treated?

TMD can be an uncomfortable, disconcerting type of disorder. It can make simple daily tasks difficult and painful and can lead to frightening situations, such as being unable to open or close your mouth.

Relieving symptoms is fortunately possible, and there are several ways to treat TMJ disorders.

TMJ Physical Therapy Treatments

Physical therapy can be one of the most effective ways to find TMJ relief. For example, physical therapy may focus on TMJ exercises that strengthen your jaw muscles to relieve discomfort and — as much as possible — prevent it from occurring.

1. Relaxation techniques

Stress can result in several physical symptoms that can disrupt your everyday life. That’s why TMJ pain reThat’sxercises are commonly used in patients with high-stress levels that contribute to worsening TMD symptoms.

2. Postural training

Many practitioners have found that posture training positively impacts temporomandibular, or TMD, symptoms. Improving head and neck, posture may improve TMD symptoms and encourage patients to improve their posture.

Dry needling is being used on a client to treat TMJ.

3. Trigger Point Dry Needling

Dry needling can significantly reduce jaw pain and improve the jaw’s range of motion, restoring jaw function. Patients who undergo dry needling for TMJ may notice an improvement in the symptoms after a single session, but treatment usually takes several sessions to get the best results.

Woman holding ice pack due to TMJ pain.

4. Heat/Ice

Regular icing and (especially) heating of the temporomandibular joint will often accompany physical therapy and can be a reliable way to relieve TMJ.

5. Medication

Various medications may also be employed, with or without physical therapy. Basic anti-inflammatory medications (like ibuprofen and acetaminophen) can reduce swelling and offer some TMJ pain relief. Stronger medications — including both certain antidepressants as well as muscle relaxants — can also be prescribed for TMD.

6. Mouth Guards

Wearing a mouth guard — particularly when sleeping, if you grind your teeth — can also be a way to reduce pain like TMJ headache associated with TMD.

Girl putting mouth guard on.

7. Surgery

In cases ranging from moderate to severe, surgery may be an effective way to alleviate problems caused by TMD. More moderate cases may benefit from arthrocentesis to lubricate the joint. Moreover, steroid and botox injections can reduce pain and help mobility.

In more severe TMD cases, modified condylotomy and open-joint surgery are options. This procedure works on the bones around the joint or on the joint itself. However, these procedures are generally reserved for the most significant TMJ disorders.

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Get Help Today

Trying to find relief for ear aches, headaches, and jaw popping can be stressful and painful — but luckily, there are ways to address them. If you’ve been searching for “TMJ treatment near me” and haven’t had any luck, ProActive Physical Therapists can help. With extensive experience treating pain disorders, our physical therapists can help you get the relief you deserve. Visit us online or call us at (520) 747-9225 to get started with a complimentary FREE assessment.

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