How Laser Therapy Can Relieve TMJ Pain Fast

Lasers are incredible tools that can do anything from entertaining cats to cutting diamonds. But did you know that certain types of lasers can even help injuries heal? I’m Lauren Masi, Doctor of Physical Therapy and board-certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. I’m also the owner and Clinical Services Director of Bay Area Physical Therapy and Lafayette Physical Therapy. Today, we’re going to talk about how laser therapy can relieve TMJ pain fast.

What Is the TMJ?

TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint. You have two of them, one on each side of your face where your jaw meets your skull. If you put your fingers right in front of your ears and you open and close your mouth, you’ll feel a hollow and a filling as your jaw moves. That is your temporomandibular joint.

What Causes TMJ Pain?

It could be that good old punch to the face, that good old bar fight and jaw injury directly. Or it can be something like grinding or clenching your teeth, and that alone can have other causes to it. It could be stress-induced or muscle tightness, which is like the chicken or the egg—I don’t know which came first, but both of those can cause issues in that area. 

Poor posture or poor ergonomics, which is how you fit into your environment, can also lead to TMJ pain. If you’re sitting at a desk leaning over and jutting your chin forward, which overlaps with posture a bit, it can lead to pain. 

Dental work can also cause TMJ pain. Sometimes if you get caps or crowns or have missing teeth, and the alignment of your teeth is off, that can put uneven pressures through your temporomandibular joint. And that joint does have cartilage, so sometimes people can have uneven wear on that or even a tear in that cartilage in the jaw that can lead to pain.

What Are the Symptoms of TMJ Pain?

How might you know that you have a TMJ disorder? There are several symptoms, including: 

  • Pain in your ear, where you might actually think you have an earache. 
  • Pain in the jaw and face area locally. 
  • Pain that extends down into your neck and shoulders. 

And sometimes, it’s problems in your neck and shoulders that actually refer the pain up to your jaw.

How Do Physical Therapists Evaluate TMJ Pain?

We’re going to do a whole assessment to look at all of these areas and try to figure out, do you have muscle tightness? What’s causing it? Is it poor posture or ergonomics? I’m going to ask you questions about your recent dental work or if you’re feeling tooth pain. Sometimes people feel tooth pain that can be coming from a TMJ disorder because the nerves in that area connect to your teeth and other parts of your face and jaw. 

We also might have to look at your diet. Are you chewing gum all the time? Are you trying to crack into very strong hard foods that can constantly shift the jaw and injure those tissues? You might pay attention to where do you chew your food? Do you always chew your food on the same side of your jaw? Because certainly, that can lead to wear and tear. So again, that full assessment, getting to the root cause will help to guide our treatment.

How Do Physical Therapists Treat TMJ Pain?

After the evaluation, we’re going to decide how to approach treatment. Usually, it’s going to start with activity modification or work site modification, like adjusting your desk setup. Other treatments can include things like:

  • Soft tissue massage
  • Joint mobilization
  • Stretching
  • Strengthening
  • Laser therapy
  • Stress management strategies
  • Massage therapy

And lastly, we might refer you out back to your dentist. Sometimes a mouth guard is warranted and sometimes it’s not. I certainly have had patients who have a mouth guard and they think that’s all they need; but if they’re just clenching their jaw into their mouth guard, we haven’t really addressed the root cause of the problem. They might need to have a different alternative provided by their dentist, or they might have to have their dentist address a malalignment that they have in their teeth. We love to work with our other providers to make sure that we give comprehensive care to our patients.

How Does Laser Therapy Relieve TMJ Pain

We are lucky enough to have a Class IV laser. It is a light therapy modality that uses a little bit of warmth to increase blood flow to the area to help it heal. Using this laser is one of the number one areas where we are seeing the best outcomes in terms of treating and controlling pain for our clients. If you need more information on our Class IV laser, please reference our prior blog post.

And if you are suffering from TMJ pain, please reach out today at (925) 284-3840. We’ll set up your complimentary demo of the laser and talk about whether we should get you onto a physical therapy plan of care as soon as possible.

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