What on Earth is TMD?!

Welcome back! This month I’m going to touch on an interesting and more unusual topic. The subject… TMD. If you don’t know what this is, hopefully I can capture your curiosity, and get you read a little further. If you are aware of it, and have suffered with it yourself, then this article may be of particular interest to you.

TMD, or properly known as ‘Temporomandibular Dysfunction’ is related to pain with the joint between the jaw and the skull, or surrounding muscles, ligaments and tendons. 

The first question you might ask..

What are the signs and symptoms of TMD?

  • Pain in the jaw area! – This might seem an obvious one, but it can also include pain spreading up into the temple, chin, into the ear, and even into the neck. This pain can feel dull and achey, which is why it is often mistaken for toothache.
  • Jaw stiffness – One of the main tell-tail signs of TMD is difficulty opening the jaw fully or more general stiffness. Clicking, cracking or grinding when opening the mouth can also be associated with this problem.
  • Headaches – Not always present with TMD, but this can occur due to overactive muscles around the jaw.


Someone booking a physiotherapy appointment for TMD is quite a rare occurrence. This is probably the lack of awareness that the little joint that opens and closes their mouth could even be a problem! The first place most people go is straight to their dentist (which if I didn’t know better, would probably be the same place I’d go). Only when the dentist looks and finds no problems on X-rays or dental checks, might they suspect this is a problem. Having chatted to a dentist that works next door to one of our PhysioDirect clinics, they confirmed this is something they actually see a lot of.

The next query you might want an answer to..

What might contribute to TMD?

  • Stress! – The physical signs of stress such as clenching your jaw can play a role in this condition. Constant overactivity of the surrounding jaw musculature and tendons can lead to pain and dysfunction.
  • Impact to the jaw –  This can include things such as falling on the face when drunk.. Ouch! Perhaps not a common problem for most of us, but on the rare occasion we trip when drunk, our reaction times are slowed. This can mean landing on the face rather than outstretched arms. Impact from things such as fighting, also need to be considered. If there is pain involving impact trauma, ruling out anything more serious is always advised.
  • Braces – Worth also considering. A history of anything which has had a restrictive effect on our jaws and teeth may cause changes to the way our jaw moves, and therefore play a role.
  • Bad habits – Chewing gum, the end of your pen at work or even biting nails or teeth grinding at night can increase the total amount of work our jaws do throughout each day. Although one of these habits might not cause problems on their own, on top of one or two of the other problems above, it might all add a little towards the development of TMD symptoms.

The things we do, the habits we have and even our how stressed we are can all play a role in this condition.

Question number 3..

How can Physio Help?

  • Thorough Assessments – Going into detail about your symptoms, how they started, habits you might have all help put together a picture of your condition and how best to help. Ruling out other possible causes of your pain such as the neck will also be covered by your physio.
  • Manual therapy Techniques – More often than not, TMD presents with restriction in movement of the jaw. Hands on treatment to help get things moving can be very beneficial. More often than not it doesn’t mean going inside your mouth, as most techniques can be applied to the outside of the jaw. Soft tissue techniques to the surrounding musculature can also provide some relief.
  • Stress management! – Believe it or not, physio’s are well equipped to help provide tips to deal with this.
  • Tailored exercise programs – Specific stretching and strengthening exercises may be given depending on your symptoms. Self mobilisation techniques can be taught, and can often help make progress between sessions.
  • Working on your bad habits! – Knowledge of all the bad habits mentioned above, and making an effort to change can help get this condition on the right path. Often some support and guidance from your physio can give you the push you need. Some habits are harder to break than others after all.


So there you go. TMD in a nutshell. Hopefully some awareness of this condition might help point you or someone else you know in the right direction. If you have any questions or want to book in for an assessment, give us a call on 0115 956 2353. Thats it for another month, keep checking for our next update!

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