What is TMJ?

The letters TMJ represent the Temporo-Mandibular Joint, or the jaw joint. The mandible, or jaw bone, articulates with the side of the skull via the temporal bone. There is a fluid filled capsule and a small disc, or cartilage, within each jaw joint, similar, in some ways, to the knee. Whilst we would never hear a sportsperson, limping off the pitch saying ‘I have Knee!!’, patients with a jaw problem may be told: ’You have TMJ’. In truth, it is not a diagnosis, merely a pointer as to where the problem is located.

Where confusion sometimes arises, is where jaw pain, headache and muscle soreness is called TMJ syndrome. TMD, TMDS, MPDS, TMS, MPS, are all variants along a similar theme.

The TMJ is in use 24 hours a day, as we breathe, eat, sleep, swallow, talk and express our emotions. All the time they are in full working order, we are generally unaware of the wonderful job our TMJs are doing. It is only when they go wrong, that we begin to appreciate the vital role of the TMJ.
Due to the sophisticated nerve network in the head and neck, dysfunction in one area can be felt as pain in an adjacent area:

* Pain in perfectly healthy teeth may be caused by a muscle problem in the cheek. 

** Headaches with nausea may arise from the upper neck joints. 

*** Ear pain can be a combintion of dysfunctions in the neck and jaw.

Just like any joint the TMJ can be susceptiable to fracture, muscle strain, ligament, tendon and cartilage damage. The TMJ can become inflamed during generalized inflammatory conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis, or affected by degenerative wear and tear (osteoarthritis). Children, young adults and older people can all be affected by TMJ dysfunction.  Sometimes there is a cause, like an injury or following a dental procedure, and sometimes it seems to come on for no apparent reason. Loud clicking and crunching is a common and very disturbing feature of many jaw problems. Although may sound like the bone is crunching, it rarely is that dramatic. More commonly the sound is coming from the little disc which has moved out of position within the joint. Even if XRays have shown degenerative changes in the jaw joints, don't become too alarmed until you've discussed it thoroughly with your health professional. Joints naturally change as we age and it may not be all gloom and doom. Think how often your knees crack when you walk upstairs or get up from the floor? 


The neuro-musculo-skeletal evaluation of a craniomandibular physiotherapist is designed to unravel these links, pin-point the source of the problem and free you from pain.

Symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction, such as jaw pain, clicking, clenching etc. can be varied , as there is no single condition which affects the jaw joints. Many of the symptoms are also present in other medical conditions.  A thorough assessment and diagnosis is required before a treatment plan can be made. This will vary for each patient as there is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment for jaw problems. TMJ is not a diagnosis.


We are happy to investigate any of the following problems at Headline Physiotherapy, to determine their source and whether they are likely to respond to treatment:

  • Jaw pain
  • Jaw clicking, crunching, grating, popping, locking
  • Problems opening or closing the mouth
  • Dislocating jaw
  • Bruxism/ tooth clenching or grinding
  • Persistent toothache- even though the dentist says the tooth is fine
  • Pain in the face
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia and Bell's Palsy
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Headache
  • Migraine and Cluster Headache
  • Neck pain, stiffness and limited neck movement
  • Dizziness and Vertigo
  • Earache – even though no ear problem can be found.
  • Ear clogging, popping, stuffiness, itching
  • Tinnitus – ringing, buzzing, roaring or insect sounds in the ear
  • Difficulty swallowing, speaking, sore throat, frequent coughing or clearing the throat
  • Difficulty keeping mouth open for dental work
  • Snoring
  • Sinus pain
  • Poor Posture