Have you ever seen the movie Jaws? If you haven’t seen this classic, then you are probably a lot less nervous about getting into the ocean. If you have seen it, then you know it’s about a behemoth great white shark that haunts those who dare to step into the Atlantic Ocean.

Although not as scary as a shark, jaw pain can haunt you on a regular basis. Current estimates suggest that up to 10 million people in the United States suffer from some form of jaw pain. Typical symptoms consist of pain in the jaw, face, or neck, jaw muscle stiffness, clicking and popping, headache that is affected by the jaw, and feelings of the jaw being stuck shut.

To understand jaw pain, one must first have a basic understanding of how the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) operates. The TMJ is made up of the lower jaw bone (the mandible) and the bone on the skull it articulates with (the temporal bone). Between these bones is a disc that helps this motion occur smoothly. Surrounding the joint are muscles that help the jaw open, close, move forward and backward, as well as side to side. This video helps illustrate the normal jaw opening.

Temporomandibular Joint

Click to Watch Video by AnimatedBiomedical | abpLearning

Most problems with the temporomandibular joint can be classified into 3 main categories:

  1. Muscular Disorders: There are 4 primary muscles that control jaw motion and these can produce pain.
  2. Joint Disorders: The articulation of the disc between the two bones can produce pain and clicking.
  3. Cervical (Neck) Disorders: Surrounding structures in the neck can reproduce the pain around the jaw and contribute to some of the muscular and joint disorders.

Treatment differs for each of these classifications and consists of a thorough evaluation of the head, neck, jaw, and shoulders to determine the proper classification and treatment regimen. Most jaw conditions resolve fairly quickly (4-6 visits in physical therapy). If you are experiencing these symptoms, we would be happy to help! Call us at (503) 538-4805!

  1. A Proposed Diagnostic Classification of Patients With Temporomandibular Disorders: Implications for Physical Therapists
    Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 2014 44:3, 182-197