Causes of TMJ

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: TMJ Pain


TMJ Pain
Cause of TMJ Pain

So, we know that temporomandibular joint is a hinge that connects your mandible (jaw bone) to your skull. It allows you to move your jaw up and down and side to side, so you can talk, chew, and yawn.

We also know that the signs and symptoms of TMJ can include issues such as jaw pain when yawning, jaw ache after eating or a night’s sleep and headaches.

The TMJ is one of the most common joints in the body to become tight and painful - at least that’s what I see in my physiotherapy practice. TMJ problems are commonly associated with neck and upper back conditions. Unfortunately, TMJ dysfunctions are often overlooked or not diagnosed by therapists and doctors.

They often have a silent but deadly nature! What I mean by this is that you may have pain in your neck but the cause is actually from your jaw! Some of my back pain patients look at me oddly when they come to me with neck or upper back pain and, during my assessment, I ask them to open and close their mouths!!

Problems with your jaw and the muscles in your face that control it are known as temporomandibular disorders (TMD). But you may hear it wrongly called TMJ, after the joint

The primary causes of TMJ?

A better understanding of the causes of TMJ can result in choosing the most appropriate treatment option, so I am going to share with you the most common causes of TMJ dysfunction that I see on a daily basis in my Physiotherapy practice:

  1. Tension and tightness in the muscles around your neck and jaw is a main cause of TMJ problems. When the muscles get overactive or tight they can directly or indirectly pull your jaw out of alignment. Tight muscles can also result in your jaw bones compressing excessively together, resulting in compression related pain.

  2. Muscle spasms in your neck or jaw can result in TMJ pain, joint locking or tightness. Severe muscle spasms around the jaw can sometimes result in your jaw dislocating. Not to be recommended! It is the sudden and forceful nature of muscle spasms that can distort the position and function of your TMJ greatly.

    Sometimes, if the spasm is very severe - even when it has subsided, jaw dysfunction can continue. Always seek specialised physiotherapy for any ongoing TMJ symptoms.

  3. Teeth grinding is one of the most common causes of TMJ problems. If you regularly grind your teeth the knock on effects will often include pain and stiffness in your TMJ. These symptoms in the early stages are worse early in the morning once you wake and then they ease as the day unfolds. However, if teeth-grinding is ignored for too long constant TMJ symptoms usually evolve. Never ignore jaw symptoms!

  4. Bite misalignments are another common cause of TMJ pain. Misalignments are often present from birth and remain undetected until symptoms occur. Other causes of bite misalignments are injury, muscle imbalances, poorly fitted dentures, neck injuries, arthritis, and stress. Early intervention of bite misalignments is a must, as if these alignments continue over time the rest of your skeletal body will too be out of alignment and more prone to injury!

  5. Stress is always associated with TMJ problems in my opinion. Stress can be the primary cause of the problem or else it evolves from the non-resolving TMJ pain that people complain of. Stress increases the tension in your neck and jaw muscles, but to name a few, and this in turn leads to compression tension to the TMJ which will often result in teeth grinding, pain and/or stiffness.

Left untreated, TMJ problems generally worsen and eventually affect other areas of your body. Arthritis may result.

In reality, I believe there is almost always more than one cause for TMJ dysfunction! So seek out a Physiotherapist who specialises in this TMJ. Your treatment may involve one of, or a combination of, manual therapy, TMJ Exercises, good dental treatment, massage, craniosacral therapy or other stress relieving therapy.

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While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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