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Jaw Pain & Injuries (TMJ)

Are you suffering from jaw pain? Did you know that jaw physiotherapy can help with jaw and TMJ pain?

What is the TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the jaw joint. The TMJ is found just in front of and slightly below your earlobes on either side of your head. The 2 joints work together as a pair. The TMJ connects the lower jaw bone (mandible bone) to the temporal bones of the skull.

The TMJ is a complex structure we use to eat, talk, and breathe. The jaw is one of the most used joint in the body, and with the high amount of use can come many different issues.

How does the TMJ work?

The TMJ is made up of:

  • Mandible bone
  • Temporal bone
  • Zygomatic bone
  • Disc
  • Joint capsule
  • Ligaments
  • Muscles

To keep the TMJ working smoothly, a soft disc lies between thetemporomandibular jointmandibular head and the articular fossa of the temporal bone. The disc also acts as a shock absorber when you chew.

Normal movements of the mandible include opening (depression), closing (elevation), left, right, forward (protrusion), and backward (retrusion).

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What are temporomandibular disorders?

Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) are injuries or issues that can affect any part of the TMJ. Also note, injuries or conditions that commonly affect other joints in the body such as arthritis, can also affect one or both of the TMJs.

Approximately 12% of the population have TMD. Both men and women can experience TMD, but the majority are women aged 16-35 years.

The duration of TMDs can vary widely, with people experiencing symptoms anywhere from several days to several months.

Symptoms of temporomandibular disorders (TMD)

Symptoms can vary depending on the type of injury or disorder and the severity, but some common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the face, jaw, neck, or upper shoulders
  • Headaches
  • Ear pain, pressure, fullness, or ringing
  • Jaw muscle stiffness, locking, or limited movement
  • Joint noises such as clicking, popping, or grinding
  • Changes to speaking, swallowing, breathing, and/or facial expressions
  • Painful chewing
  • A bite that feels ‘off’
  • Dizziness
  • Vision problems
  • Swollen face or jaw

What causes temporomandibular disorders?

Often there can be no cause for TMD symptoms, or there may be several contributing factors. Some possible causes of TMD include:

  • The structure of TMJ joint and it’s components
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Trauma such as car accidents
  • Stress
  • Excessive use with gum chewing, nail biting, smoking, singing
  • Infections
  • Dental procedures
  • Prolonged mouth opening or jaw positions
  • Arthritis
  • Teeth clenching or grinding

Why is my jaw sore after dental surgery or dental work?

Small amounts of jaw stiffness and soreness is common after oral surgery or prolonged dental work. This can last for several days or several weeks. This is from the prolonged mouth open position and if the surgery or dental work has affected structures surrounding the jaw.

Moderate to severe pain, limited mouth opening, or jaw locking is not usually expected.  This can be due to muscle strain or disc displacement associated with the prolonged mouth open position. In this case you should seek advice from your dentist, doctor, and/or physiotherapist.

Physiotherapy can help alleviate the stiffness or soreness and help improve the amount of mouth opening you can achieve following surgery. Your physiotherapist may advise using hot or cold therapy, regular jaw movement, and gentle jaw exercises.

Who can help with temporomandibular disorders?

Physiotherapist – physiotherapists can use many different techniques to decrease pain and improve the functioning of your jaw. See below for more information.

General Practitioner (GP) – many conditions can mimic the symptoms of TMD, so it is a good idea to get checked by your GP. Depending on the severity of your pain, they will also provide guidance on medications for pain management.

Dentist – they may prescribe a splint/guard to provide stabilisation or jaw repositioning. These are short-term tools and are usually used for a short period of time.

What will physiotherapy involve?

Physiotherapy is important for jaw pain to ensure proper and complete recovery. Though each injury will differ slightly, your physio will guide you through the best treatment for your condition.

  • Education on jaw positioning, eating and chewing habits, and work or activity modification
  • Heat or ice
  • Postural correction
  • Manual therapy
  • Joint mobilisation – may involve manual techniques inside your mouth
  • Rehabilitative exercises
  • Referral to dentist or GP

TMJ dysfunction is a special interest to our principle physiotherapist Bobbie-Jo Strong and she will be eager to help with your recovery. Call 07 3352 5116 to book a consultation or book online today.



Brukner B, Khan K (2007) Clinical Sports Medicine: Third Edition, McGraw Hill, Australia Pty, Ltd.

TMD Basics – The Basics of the Jaw Joint. (2017). Retrieved from