Jaw Pain: A Big Pain in a Small Joint

Abbie SawyerThe Research, Your Best Life

Many of our patients experience temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain and dysfunction. It can be debilitating, chronic, and can significantly affect quality of life. Eating some of your favorite foods can become painful and limited. TMJ pain can radiate into the neck and even cause headaches. Often, it can feel that TMJ problems will never go away.

So, what is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint, or jaw joint, is a synovial joint. It allows the complex movements necessary for life, such as eating, speech, and breathing {1}. The system is made up of the TMJ, teeth, and associated soft tissue.

TMJ Disorders and Pain

TMJ disorders can lead to pain in the jaw and surrounding areas. Minor TMJ discomfort will usually go away on its own. However, this little joint can cause BIG problems if not treated. It can become difficult to do certain movements with your mouth, which can affect eating, breathing and sleeping and occasionally be a constant pain that can affect your everyday life.

TMJ disorders can present with the following:

  • pain with eating or chewing (i.e. biting an apple, corn on the cob, or chewing gum)
  • clicking/popping when you yawn
  • pain during sleep
  • pain with sustained postures
  • difficulty or inability to open your mouth
  • ear pain or tinnitus
  • facial pain

Good news! Research shows that conservative care (PT and chiropractic care) can provide significant relief and even full resolution of TMJ problems.

What the research says about conservative care and TMJ treatments:

  • Research has shown that postural training, manual therapy, and exercise, have all demonstrated significant benefit in treating TMJ disorders. {2}
  • Based on the orthopedic literature, it is clear that the physical stimulus of motion is essential to maintain the health of (jaw) joints. Based on the literature and clinical experience, it is also clear that the use of passive motion to encourage early and effective TMJ mobilization is extremely important in the management of patients with mandibular hypomobility {3}.   
  • One clinical trial found that application of cervico-mandibular manual therapies in combination with exercise and education resulted in better outcomes than application of exercise/education alone in individuals with tinnitus attributed to TMD. {4}


  1. Di Fabio RP. Physical therapy for patients with TMD: a descriptive study of treatment, disability, and health status. Journal of orofacial pain. 1998 Apr 1;12(2).
  2.  McNeely ML, Armijo Olivo S, Magee DJ. A systematic review of the effectiveness of physical therapy interventions for temporomandibular disorders. Phys Ther. 2006;86:710–725.
  3. Howard A. Israel, D.D.S.; Steven B. Syrop, D.D.S.  The Important Role of Motion in the Rehabilitation of Patients with Mandibular Hypomobility: A Review of the Literature. THE JOURNAL OF CRANIOMANDIBULAR PRACTICE.JANUARY 1997 VOL ‘5. NO 1
  4. Pain Medicine, Volume 21, Issue 3, March 2020, Pages 613–624,

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