The TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint, the point where the jaw joins with the skull. It is located just in front of the ear, beside the cheek. We have two Temporomandibular Joints, one on either side, which work in unison as we open, close or deviate (move the jaw side to side). Between the boney prominence of the jaw and the skull there is a cartilaginous disc. This disc provides cushioning, stability and distribution of synovial fluid to assist in joint nutrition. The mandible moves, under its articulation with the disc. The capsule of the disc is also attached to a muscle called the 'lateral pterygoid'. If this is too tight, it can cause the disc to shift which can make a clicking sound as the muscle contracts.
Problems in this region are known as TMJ dysfunction. They can be due to inflammation, altered mechanics in the joint. This can happen in two ways 1) Acute, which means sudden onset after an automobile accident or compression of the jaw and 2) Chronic, due to many years of grinding teeth, neck stiffness, arthritis, hypermobility or even nerve pain referral (particularly the trigeminal nerve). Symptoms of dysfunction are varied and can include clicking, locking of the joint, limitation of movement, stiffness or difficulty opening one's mouth; difficulty biting or chewing, morning headaches or pain particularly around the ear as well as ringing in the ears.
Your physiotherapist will assess you to determine the cause of your pain. They will start to release muscles which will assist in normalising the movement, and limit the abnormal pull on the disc, as well as decrease (jaw or headache) pain due to muscular tension. In the case of stiffness, the joint can be mobilised, which can assist in regaining movement. (Source: Dentist in Laguna Niguel)
Exercises can be performed to encourage normal movement. Sometimes a splint may be benefical, and your physiotherapist will work in conjunction with your dentist to arrange this. It is also essential to learn how to control tightness around your own TMJ so that you can be empowered with skills to prevent reoccurrence long term. Make sure you talk to your physiotherapist about exactly how to do this so you can start to take a leadership role in looking after your own health.
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