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TMJ Pain, Physical Therapy, and the Pandemic

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

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.

, TMJ Pain, Physical Therapy, and the Pandemic

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

 

, TMJ Pain, Physical Therapy, and the Pandemic

 

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.

By Dr. James DiGregorio, PT, DTP of SHC Montvale