Jaw-Dropping: What is the TMJ?

by Jai Sappal

The TMJ is the joint around your jaw and how it articulates or joins and moves against your skull. It stands for temporomandibular joint and is involved in mastication (chewing). You have a number of muscles around your jaw as well as a few ligaments. These muscles are named as: Masseter, Temporalis (which attaches from the temples of your skull), the pterygoids (1). Within the joint is a small disk, which acts to keep movements smooth (2).

You can also quickly figure out the movements. You can bring the jaw forward and back, side to side, opening and closing the mouth. Unfortunately, those that are struggling with TMJ disorder might have one of these movements affected.

Like any part of the body if the TMJ is unhappy then it can become a source of pain either localised to the joint itself or referring into the cheek and face or tooth pain and sensitivity, or more commonly it is experienced as chronic headache. You may also experience crepitus (crackling) or clicking. Other symptoms may include tinnitus (ringing ears), and even vertigo if severe enough (1).

Causes of TMJ Disorder
The exact cause of TMJ disorder is not well understood (1), but there are a few risk factors which can predispose you to developing them. The one that is commonly seen in the clinic is people clenching their jaws. A common treatment for this is the prescription of a mouthguard at night. This is to prevent clenching and especially grinding their teeth, both of which can contribute to the development of a TMJ injury, or build up of tension in the muscles that surround the area. Clinically we are also starting to see a group of patients come through who have been poking their lower jaw forwards against their mask causing an adverse build up of tension and you guessed it pain…

Sometimes, the symptoms will just resolve on their own, but in cases that they don’t, we are here to help! Physiotherapy includes muscle relaxation techniques and exercises to alleviate symptoms and to correct for the potential dysfunction around the joint (3).

What do I do?
If you are experiencing jaw pain, difficulty opening the jaw, or ongoing headaches it is absolutely worth coming in for an assessment to see what the source of the dysfunction could be. We will work with you to relieve your pain through manual therapy techniques and give appropriate exercises to alleviate your symptoms so that you can finally enjoy a family-sized pizza to yourself without feeling like your jaw is judging you.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551612/
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tmj/symptoms-causes/syc-20350941
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tmj/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350945#:~:text=Infrequently%2C%20injecting%20botulinum%20toxin%20type,disorders%20as%20open%2Djoint%20surgery


Jai Sappal
Peak Health Services.