Treating Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

The TMJ joint is often considered one of the most complex joints in the body. The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) lies just in front of the ears, where the lower jaw hinges. To find the TMJ joint place your fingers just in front of your ears and open your mouth. The temporomandibular joint is quite unique from other joints in your body; the TMJ joint is a complex joint that works like a hinge yet it also can perform sliding motions.


If this joint and its accompanying soft-tissues are restricted or unbalanced, it can cause conditions such as headaches, earaches, facial pain, vision problems, eye pain, teeth problems, balance issues, tinnitus, throat and neck pain, dizziness, and a host of other symptoms. Most of the complaints that arise from TMD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder) arise from the muscles that surround the temporomandibular joint and the joint itself.

In less severe cases of TMD the only symptom may be a clicking or popping sound. These symptoms are usually caused by overuse of the muscles of mastication. These muscles are the masseter, temporalis, medial pterygoid, and the lateral pterygoid muscles. Habits such as chewing gum, clenching or grinding teeth, or biting nails can lead to these problems. The problem is that what starts out as a minor annoyance can become a major dysfunction.

Over a period of time repetitive motion creates tension in muscles, friction, and micro tears in the muscle tissue that surround the jaw. These micro tears create inflammation and the formation of scar tissue (adhesions). This weakens the surrounding musculature, creates muscle imbalances, and effects neuromuscular and vascular function.

Causes of TMJ Disorders Back to Top

There are many potential causes of TMJ disorders. They include:

  • Wear and tear of the joint
  • Arthritic inflammation
  • Injury
  • Stress
  • Dental appliances
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth
  • Poor alignment of teeth

Do you have TMJ? Back to Top

TMJ symptoms vary, but you may want to be examined by a professional if you show many of the following symptoms:

  • Clicking and popping of the jaw when you open your mouth
  • Pain in the TMJ area when opening and closing the mouth
  • Pain when yawning or chewing
  • Headaches or earaches
  • Pain in the jaw upon waking up
  • Jaws that get stuck or locked

When to Seek Medical Care for your Jaw Back to Top


Usually, TMD is not an indication of something serious happening in your body. In most cases, all you require are some ART procedures and self-care practices that focus upon eliminating muscle spasms and restoring muscle balance.

Under certain circumstances you should seek medical care for your jaw pain. This is especially true if your TMD is arthogenous (joint) related, since it is important to rule out problems such as systemic arthritic conditions, degenerative joint disorders (DJDs), infections, and tumors.



Other red flags for which you should see your dentist or seek medical help include:

  • Blunt force trauma to your jaw or head which could cause cerebral bleeding.
  • Ongoing jaw pain accompanied by stiffness, neck pain, and fever could be indications of meningitis.
  • Severely restricted jaw movements where you are unable to open or close your mouth, and which affects your ability to ingest food.
  • Note: These severe conditions are very rare compared to the myogenous (muscle) related varieties of TMD.

Treating Temporomandibular Joint Disorder with Active Release Back to Top


Asymmetries in the muscles of mastication commonly develop when the muscles that surround the TMJ joints become restricted. Mastication refers to chewing and grinding food in your mouth so it becomes soft enough to swallow. The muscles of mastication are the masseter muscle, temporalis muscle, medial pterygoid muscle, and the lateral pterygoid muscle.

When imbalances in the muscles of mastication occur the type of observable dysfunction will be directly related to which muscle has been affected. Masticatory muscle function correlates closely with muscle fibre direction. In most cases, restrictions in the muscles of mastication can easily be treated with ART procedures. The following muscles are some of the common structures treated in the Jaw with ART procedures. The actual Techniques used by ART practitioners are taught in the Spine course at

Muscle of Mastication

Temporalis Muscle

  • Temporalis contraction elevates the jaw (mandible). The horizontal fibers of the temporalis retract the jaw (mandible).
  • When dysfunction occurs you will have problems closing and retracting the jaw.

Masseter Muscle

  • Closes the jaw during chewing.
  • When dysfunction occurs you will have problems closing and retracting the jaw.

Medial Pterygoid Muscle

  • These muscles elevate and protrude the jaw (mandible).
  • Individually this bilateral muscle moves the jaw from side to side.
  • When dysfunction occurs you will have problems elevating, protruding and moving the jaw side to side.

Lateral Pterygoid Muscle

  • Together these muscles depress and protrude the jaw (mandible).
  • Individually these muscles move the jaw from side to side.
  • When dysfunction occurs you will have problems depressing, protruding and moving the jaw side to side.

What you can do to reduce TMJ symptoms Back to Top

There are several relaxation exercises that you can do to reduce TMJ disorder symptoms, and after treatment, to prevent the recurrence of TMJ pain. The most important thing to remember is to stay RELAXED! So… try some of these tips and see if they help your problem:


  • Use cold packs to bring down the swelling.
  • Keep your lips together, but your teeth apart when not talking or eating.
  • Perform relaxation exercises for the jaw. See our exercise video for some examples.
  • Massage the area gently several times a day, first with your mouth closed, then with your mouth open.



  • Don’t clench your jaws. Make a conscious effort to be aware of your jaw position, and keep them relaxed.
  • Don’t chew gum.
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach since this can misalign your jaw.

Exercise is Essential Back to Top

TMJ exercises are an essential part of treating TMJ syndromes. Exercises should increase jaw flexibility and strength, and improve any type of muscle imbalance that has occurred. Many beneficial exercises are demonstrated in my “Jaw to Shoulder” book.

Exercises for TMJ from Kinetic Health. Watch our You Tube Video.

See Kinetic Health’s Neck Exercise Videos for a sample of some the exercises we prescribe to our patients suffering from neck pain.

Need more information…check out these great resources

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Kinetic Health
Soft Tissue Mgt. Systems
10–34 Edgedale Drive NW
Calgary, AB T3A 2R4, Canada
p | 403-241–3772
f | 403-241–3846
e |


Kinetic Health
Soft Tissue Mgt. Systems
10–34 Edgedale Drive NW
Calgary, AB T3A 2R4, Canada
p | 403-241–3772
f | 403-241–3846
e |


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