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TMJ Pain, Physical Therapy, And
The Pandemic


Dr. James DiGregorio Talks About TMJ
Pain, Physical Therapy, and the

With our most recent pandemic and being forced to wear masks out in public, I began to hear an increase in complaints of TMJ or pain, myself included. With this growing issue, I figured that I would highlight what TMJ is, how it is affected with the pandemic, and solutions for the pain.


First off, what is TMJ and how does it cause pain?

  • The temporal-mandibular joint is a saddle-hinge joint at the top of your jaw
  • The joint consists of two bones with a disc located between them and small muscles surrounding the joint
  • Pain is often caused by overuse of muscles around the area or impingement of the disc between the joints

Common reasons for TMJ pain?

  • Clenching of the jaw
  • Stomach sleeping
  • Post dental work/surgery requiring extended period of time with the mouth open
  • An increase in stress
  • Car accidents/whiplash
  • Shoulder pain or neck pain/headaches
  • Postural abnormalities and overactivity of sternocleidomastoid muscles
    • An increase in sitting
  • Wearing a mask?

How can wearing a mask
aggravate this pain?

  • Reducing your jaw ROM during talking leads to over activity of muscles around the joint
  • People are dissuaded from talking with a mask covering their mouth which leads to an increase in stiffness
  • People needing to project their voice due to a barrier being over their mouth
  • Adjusting the position of the mask with facial muscles

Symptoms of TMJ:

  • Face, ear, jaw, or mouth pain
  • Difficulty and painful chewing (only being able to take small bites)
  • Jaw locking
  • Headaches

Self care techniques for TMJ pain:

  • Icing of muscles around jaw
  • RACABADO >exercises for TMJ pain (set of 6 exercises to retrain muscles around the joint)
  • Practicing relaxation of muscles around the joint
  • Stretching of neck muscles

Physical Therapy for TMJ pain:

  • Manual release of muscles around TMJ and upper neck areas
  • Manually improving joint mobility and disc placement between the joint
  • Modalities such as electrical stimulation to reduce pain
  • Re-educating muscles around TMJ to reduce pressure and stress on the joint
  • Postural re-education to reduce activation of sternocleidomastoid muscles

TMJ pain is an issue that will rarely go away without either self-treatment or professional treatments. Common treatments from your dentist or oral surgeon will be night guards or oral surgery which may solve the main problem. A combination of passive and active care techniques are necessary for full alleviation of jaw pain.

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