Physical Therapy Can Help Alleviate Jaw or Face Pain


If you suffer from jaw or face pain, you may be one of the 10 million Americans the National Institutes of Health estimates are affected by TMJ dysfunction. Many people that suffer from TMJ dysfunction think they have issues with their ear, others are under a great deal of stress. The good news is, there is a treatment that can provide you relief from the pain.

TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint that connects your jaw to your skull. If this joint is injured or damaged, it can lead to pain in the joint or the muscles that control your jaw movement.

Causes of Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) syndrome

Gina Shields New, PT, temporomandibular dysfunction specialist with St. Elizabeth Healthcare Rehabilitation Services says, “Some people with TMJ dysfunction are adjusting to braces, and some are looking for solutions with ear, nose and throat doctors. TMJ dysfunction can manifest as neck and headache issues or be secondary to other diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, and fibromyalgia.”

Other causes of TMJ dysfunction include:

  • Poor posture.
  • Concussion.
  • Trauma to head, face or jaw.
  • Misalignment of the teeth or jaw.
  • Stress.
  • Arthritis.
  • Gum chewing.

Signs and Symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain in the jaw joint.
  • Jaw clicking and popping.
  • Ear pain/earache.
  • Popping sounds in ears.
  • Headaches.
  • Stiff or sore jaw muscles.
  • Pain in the temple area.
  • Locking of the jaw joint.

Finding Relief from TMJ Dysfunction

If your TMJ pain is from a bone or muscle cause, physical therapy can offer you relief.

Gina says, “Posture alignment, movement patterns with talking and chewing, sleep positioning, oral facial habits, or trauma can cause abnormal stress on the bones/joint, tendons, ligaments, and surrounding musculature in the craniofacial region. Physical therapy identifies posture corrections, movement patterns, and positioning that can prevent the dysfunction.”

A physical therapist will work with you on exercises, stretches, cognitive behavior modification, and massage techniques to resolve muscle spasms that cause the associated TMJ pain. The most common correction that must be made is reversing rounded shoulder and forward head posturing. These create abnormal stress on the upper spine, skull, and jaw and lead to spasms.

Treatments are usually massage, stretches, and postures that reduce pain and spasm. Treatment may also include moist heat, ice, ultrasound and electric stimulation. The overall goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve jaw motion and range, and restore the ability to eat/talk/yawn without difficulty.

Talk to your doctor about your concerns and a referral to St. Elizabeth for treatment for TMJ dysfunction. To schedule an appointment, call (859) 655-7400.