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Did You Know That PTs Treat Jaw Pain Too?

By: Laura McBurnett PT, MHSPT

What do you do when you notice pain when chewing or wake up with pain in your jaw? 60% of the population suffers from jaw pain at some point in their life. You may even have some clicking and popping. While a certain amount of clicking and popping is considered normal, painful jaw sounds could signal a problem.

The jaw actually consists of two joints called the temporomandibular joints or TMJ. Problems with the joint are called TMD or temporomandibular dysfunction. Most of the time, jaw pain is temporary and will resolve on its own. Chronic TMD is more common in women over age 35. Symptoms that could signal a problem include persistent pain, difficulty or inability to open or close your mouth, changes in the way your teeth come together, ear pain, and fullness or ringing in the ears. You may want to be evaluated for this pain by your primary care doctor or dentist. Did you know you could also see a physical therapist for this problem? A physical therapist will do a complete evaluation including looking at your posture, muscle function and joint mobility in your jaw as well as the neck and upper back.

The pain can stem from a variety of causes including poor posture as well as forward head position which puts increased stress on the jaw. Clenching your teeth due to stress, chewing hard food or candy, and grinding your teeth while sleeping can cause joint irritation. Also, if you have lost one or more of your back teeth, called molars, your chewing is affected causing muscle imbalance. While you may be seeing a dentist for these issues, working with a physical therapist as well may prevent further flare ups and decrease current symptoms faster.

Some of the muscles that attach to the jaw for chewing are on the sides of your head. The temporalis muscle can often be the source of headaches. Likewise, tight muscles in the cervical spine can lead to pulling on the jaw causing pain. A physical therapist can evaluate where the muscles are tight or if you have hypermobility (laxity in the joints) and recommend the correct exercises.

Physical Therapy uses manual techniques to decrease muscle tension and restore joint mobility. We also recommend exercises to strengthen your jaw as well as your neck and upper back to improve postural control. We may also use dry needling, a technique where an acupuncture type needle is inserted into the tight muscles to decrease the tension. Electrical stimulation may be used in conjunction with dry needling or topically to decrease tension.

At A Step Ahead Physical Therapy, we have therapists trained to evaluate your problem and design a plan of care tailored to your needs and goals. In Georgia, you can be evaluated by a physical therapist without a physician referral (but you cannot receive dry needling without having consulted with a physician). Depending on your insurance, you may need a physician referral for further treatment.The therapist will determine if further consult is needed with your Dentist and/or Physician.


Laura McBurnett: Laura has been practicing Physical Therapy for over 40 years. She received her BS in Physical Therapy from Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and her Masters in Health Science from University of Indianapolis. Laura is a Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist, and she is also certified in Myofascial Therapy and Dry Needling. She enjoys treating a variety of orthopedic conditions, vestibular problems and TMJ.




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