The letters TMJ represent the Temporo-Mandibular Joint, or the jaw joint. The mandible, or jaw bone, articulates with the side of the skull via the temporal bone. There is a fluid filled capsule and a small disc, or cartilage, within each jaw joint, similar, in some ways, to the knee. Whilst we would never hear a sportsperson, limping off the pitch saying ‘I have Knee!!’, patients with a jaw problem may be told: ’You have TMJ’. In truth, it is not a diagnosis, merely a pointer as to where the problem is located.
Where confusion sometimes arises, is where jaw pain, headache and muscle soreness is called TMJ syndrome. TMD, TMDS, MPDS, TMS, MPS, are all variants along a similar theme.
The TMJ is in use 24 hours a day, as we breathe, eat, sleep, swallow, talk and express our emotions. All the time they are in full working order, we are generally unaware of the wonderful job our TMJ's are doing. It is only when things go wrong, that we begin to appreciate the vital role of the TMJ.
Due to the sophisticated nerve network in the head and neck, dysfunction in one area can be felt as pain in an adjacent area: e.g.
Just like any joint the TMJ can be susceptible to fracture, muscle strain, ligament, tendon and cartilage damage. The TMJ can become inflamed during generalized inflammatory conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis, or affected by degenerative wear and tear (osteoarthritis). Children, young adults and older people can all be affected by TMJ dysfunction.
Sometimes there is a cause, like an injury or following a dental procedure, and sometimes it seems to come on for no apparent reason. Loud clicking and crunching is a common and very disturbing feature of many jaw problems. Although it may sound like the bone is crunching, it rarely is that dramatic. More commonly the sound is produced because the disc has moved within the joint.
Even if X-Rays have shown degenerative changes in the jaw joints, don't become too alarmed until you've discussed it thoroughly with your health professional. Joints naturally change as we age and it may not be all gloom and doom. Think how often your knees crack when you walk upstairs or get up from the floor!
We are happy to investigate any of the following problems at Headline Physiotherapy, to determine their source and whether they are likely to respond to treatment: