How TMJ Dysfunction Is Connected With Other Diagnoses

March 21, 2022

Sabine Combrie, PT, CST
July 28, 2022 / 5 mins read

I have noticed that many patients I treat with chronic pain, stress, neck pain, back pain, and body mechanics imbalances also present with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues.

TMJ are complex hinge joints located between the skull and jawbones. In most cases, there are no specific symptoms linked to the TMJ, which makes TMJ dysfunction difficult to diagnose. However, taking TMJ dysfunction into consideration helps a practitioner understand and treat whole-body discomfort and imbalance.

TMJ disorders can be progressive and eventually become unbearable. They are quite common and affect all types of individuals.

What Causes TMJ Dysfunction?

There are multiple causes for TMJ dysfunction:

  • Neck and thoracic spine pain, reduced cervical or thoracic vertebrae mobility, and/or poor posture
  • Previous long-term injury, car accident, or even a mild concussion
  • Grinding teeth at night due to daily stress (stress is a big part of TMJ symptoms)
  • Regular everyday stress
  • Chronic stress
  • PTSD

The most common symptoms of TMJ dysfunction are jaw locking, TMJ clicking, difficulty chewing, and pain. Other possible symptoms include headaches, ear pain, hypersensitivity of the face and jaw, jaw numbness or tingling, and teeth misalignment.

Treating TMJ Dysfunction

Common treatments include medication, bite guards, and physical therapy, but also massage, meditation, breathing exercises, visualization, yoga, postural exercises, etc.

A bite guard prescribed by a dentist or orthodontist is important to treating the symptoms -- it takes pressure off the TMJ joints and offers some relief of the chronic spasms of TMJ muscles.

However, treating the cause of TMJ dysfunction is also critical and will help prevent recurring TMJ symptoms.

Sometimes patients come into the clinic with specific TMJ dysfunction and sometimes undiagnosed TMJ dysfunction, but with neck, stress, or overall posture issues.

I usually incorporate TMJ assessments into my treatments, such as Cranio-Sacral therapy treatment. In Cranio-Sacral therapy treatment, I treat connective tissues -- which could be affected by TMJ dysfunction -- with a very light touch, as well as rebalance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve systems to reduce a patient’s stress level.

After that, I assess the patient’s posture and try to correct their spinal and weight-bearing postures. For me, TMJ is a key part of posture. I always consider the whole-body posture, as even weight-bearing on the feet can be affected by TMJ dysfunction, or vice versa.

Some specific TMJ exercises can also be performed -- preferably in a sitting position in front of a mirror -- integrating neck and back mobility, as well as posture into the exercises. They need to be repeated at home several times a day to increase the chances of success.

Mind-Body Harmony

The relaxation and visualization part of the treatment can be addressed with sophrology, a Spanish technique which aims to help the mind and body stay in harmony during simple mindfulness visualization, relaxation exercises, and while in movement (see my January 24th blog). The use of sophrology can help the patient disconnect from the pain and/or the cause of the pain or dysfunction.

In conclusion, TMJ dysfunction can result from issues with the entire body mechanic and a patient’s stress level. Working on correcting body posture and enhancing the mind-body connection are musts to successfully treat TMJ dysfunction.