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Why does my Jaw hurt?

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Temporomandibular joint disorders, known as TMD, is a condition that can cause significant difficulty using your jaw. TMD is marked by pain in your jaw that limits your ability to comfortably open and close your mouth. You may also experience clicking or "catching" while chewing food, yawning, or talking.

What Causes TMD:

  • Grinding or clenching your teeth, which puts a lot of pressure on the joint

  • Movement of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket of the joint

  • Arthritis in the joint

  • Injury to your jaw, the joint, or the muscles of your head and neck -- like from a heavy blow or whiplash

  • Stress causing your muscles surrounding the joint to tense

Your doctor or dentist will discuss your symptoms and examine your jaw. Most often symptoms arise from problems with the muscles of your jaw or with the parts of the joint itself. Treatments range from simple self-care practices, Physical Therapy, and mouth guards to injections and open surgery. Most experts agree that treatment should begin with conservative, nonsurgical therapies, with surgery left as the last resort.

Home Treatments for TMD

There are things you can do on your own to help relieve TMD symptoms.

Take over-the-counter medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like naproxen or ibuprofen, can relieve muscle pain and swelling.

Use moist heat or cold packs. Apply an ice pack to the side of your face and temple area for about 10 minutes. Do a few simple jaw stretches (if your dentist or physical therapist OKs them). When you’re done, hold a warm towel or washcloth to the side of your face for about 5 minutes. Perform this routine a few times each day.

Eat soft foods. Add yogurt, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, soup, scrambled eggs, fish, cooked fruits and vegetables, beans, and grains to your menu. Cut foods into small pieces so you chew less. Skip hard, crunchy foods (like pretzels and raw carrots), chewy foods (like caramels and taffy), and thick or large bites that require you to open wide.

Here at Synergy Physical Therapy we will work closely with your dentist to get the best outcome. Your physical therapist may use various treatments for your TMD. These treatments are designed to decrease inflammation and pain, improve posture, improve jaw mobility, and help you regain normal function of your jaw.

Physical Therapy treatment might include:


Your PT may use various massage techniques to treat your jaw pain. Massage may be applied to your jaw muscles, facial muscles, neck and shoulder muscles. The goal of massage is to relax muscles and improve circulation to them, allowing for a normal motion to occur in your temporomandibular joint.

Temporomandibular Joint Mobilizations

Your therapist may utilize mobilizations to your jaw to help improve the mobility of the joint. Mobilizations can restore normal joint motion and may help relocate a displaced articular disc in your jaw joint. The mobilizations your therapist performs may be a bit uncomfortable; many involve your PT placing her thumb or finger in your mouth along your teeth to mobilize your jaw. (Don't worry, gloves will be worn for this procedure.)

Postural Instruction

Sitting or standing with a forward head and rounded shoulder posture may place excessive stress and strain on your jaw joint. If your PT assesses that your posture is contributing to your jaw dysfunction, he or she may instruct you in proper posture.


Exercises for your jaw is one of the most important components of your TMD treatment program. Your PT will likely prescribe exercises to improve that way your jaw opens and closes. He or she may have you use a mirror so you can see how your mouth and jaw are moving and so you can ensure that they remain in proper alignment while exercising. The goal of exercise for TMD is to restore normal, pain-free jaw motion.

Dry Needling

Dry needling, also known as trigger point dry needling and myofascial trigger point dry needling, is a procedure that treats myofascial pain. Dry needling can be a very effective technique to help clients with TMD that has a muscular component. Dry Needling causes favorable biochemical changes which assist in reducing pain and has been shown to reduce abnormal EMG activity and aberrant muscle contraction.

Working with your PT and performing regular exercises can help in your recovery. Some cases may take longer, and some people may continue with symptoms after treatment. If this is the case, some patients benefit from other treatments such as wearing a mouthguard/ oral splint to off load the joint and allow for further healing.

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