Health Blog

Jaw Pain? We Can Help!


Do you or someone you know have jaw pain? You may know that your dentist can provide treatment for this type of problem, but did you know physical therapists also treat jaw pain and dysfunction?

It is estimated that 20%?25% of the population is affected by TMJ (temporomandibular joint) problems, with only 10?20% of those people seeking treatment (Medlicott and Harris 2006). Prevalence is highest from age 20?45, and 5 times more common in women than men. Dysfunction can come from both muscular issues and from joint issues (Maluf, Moreno et al. 2010).

Along with the more localized symptoms such as jaw pain, jaw clicking and locking, you may be surprised by how many other common symptoms can actually be rooted in dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint. Symptoms such as headaches, neck and/or back pain, ringing in the ears, earaches, stuffiness in ears, bruxism (grinding of your teeth), sleep disturbances, snoring, chronic fatigue, dizziness/balance issues, changes in vision, over/underbite, and tight muscles in head, neck and shoulder could also be symptoms of underlying jaw dysfunction.

In addition to having localized dysfunction at the TMJ, there could also be neck and upper back issues that are referring pain to your jaw or face. Therefore, your physical therapist will do a comprehensive evaluation to look for other contributing factors and to rule out other issues (vestibular, nerve), as well as to thoroughly evaluate the jaw. Posture is also a large contributing factor for alignment of the teeth and mandible, which affects the positioning and forces acting on the TMJ as well.

Your physical therapist will evaluate you and prescribe a personalized treatment program, which could include hands?on treatments to help to relax the muscles and make your joints move better. Treatment will also include exercises to train the muscles around your jaw, and postural training.

Also, for all you computer users out there, and especially those of you who work on a computer all day, every day, there is evidence that long?term heavy use of computers is associated with chronic pain in jaw muscles and other symptoms of temporomandibular dysfunction (Perri, Huta et al. 2008). So, if you’re having problems, it’s a good idea to get some treatment. Your physical therapist can also educate you on proper computer ergonomics and may have some tips on how to modify your work?station to help prevent future issues not only in the neck, back and jaw, but also in the shoulders, elbow and wrists.

Relaxation techniques may be recommended or prescribed, since stress can also significantly influence these types of dysfunction. Your physical therapist will also discuss any paraoral habits (chewing gum, biting on pencils, etc) you may have, which could be contributing to your problem.

Pain in this area can have a very complex origin, or it can be treated fairly easily, but you won’t know until you have it evaluated. If you are having any of the issues discussed above, contact one of our seven MTI clinics in the greater Seattle area and set up an appointment. We will be happy to help you on your way to feeling better!

Cindy UnsleberCindy Unsleber, PT, MSPT, OCS, FAAOMPT
Physical Therapist
MTI Physical Therapy – Magnolia

Cindy is a physical therapist and the manager of our Magnolia clinic. Cindy enjoys treating patients with all types of diagnoses, but due to her own neck issues over the past few years, she has a special interest in those currently experiencing neck pain and dysfunction. She has seen first-hand how a combination of skilled manual therapy and specific exercise training has allowed her to participate in recreational activities again without pain. In her free time, Cindy enjoys backpacking, hiking, skiing, running, kayaking and traveling to new places.


Maluf, S. A., B. G. Moreno, O. Crivello, C. M. Cabral, G. Bortolotti and A. P. Marques (2010). “Global postural reeducation and static stretching exercises in the treatment of myogenic temporomandibular disorders: a randomized study.” J Manipulative Physiol Ther 33(7): 500?507.

Medlicott, M. S. and S. R. Harris (2006). “A systematic review of the effectiveness of exercise, manual therapy, electrotherapy, relaxation training, and biofeedback in the management of temporomandibular disorder.” Phys Ther 86(7): 955?973.

Perri, R., V. Huta, L. Pinchuk, C. Pinchuk, D. J. Ostry and J. P. Lund (2008). “Initial Investigation of the relation between extended computer use and temporomandibular joint disorders.” J Can Dent Assoc 74(7): 643.

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