TMJ Dysfunction

At Oak Tree Osteopathy our fabulous Osteopath, Dr. Caitlin Parker,  has a strong interest in the treatment and management of TMJ joint pain and has put together a blog to cover a few questions you may have about what it is, what it feels like and what Osteopaths can do to help!


What is the TMJ?

Anatomical diagram of the skull and jaw including the temporomandibular joint.

The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is the joint located at the front of the ear and allows the jaw, and therefore mouth, to move and perform functions such as chewing, talking and breathing!  When functioning correctly, the right and left TMJ joints move in unison, in fact, they are the only joints in the body that do work in unison. This means that the correct functioning and movement of one joint depends on the correct  movement of the other.


The joint itself  is made up of the jawbone (mandible) connecting to the skull with a fibrous disc in between to allow for movement. This is then surrounded by a joint capsule, ligaments and muscle tissue. 

The TMJ moves in six directions across three planes: up and down, side to side and forward and back. All of this movement means that sometimes things can go wrong!


What are the symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction?


Symptoms of TMJ dysfunction can be really uncomfortable and distressing. What would you feel if your TMJ is restricted or inflamed?


It is common to feel pain over the top of the joint on one side or even both sides. You may feel a click, clunk or grating sensation as you open or close your mouth. There may be a feeling of restricted or locked movement. You may even get pain in your neck and shoulders that are caused by restriction in your TMJ joint.


Sometimes you may notice pain in your ear or even the feeling of increased pressure, fullness or ringing in the ear. Dizziness is also an associated symptom of a TMJ disorder.


What is it that causes TMJ dysfunction?

Picture of a woman holding her jaw with a pained expression on her face.

TMJ dysfunction is an all encompassing term for a variety of conditions that can affect the TMJ but there can be many mechanisms of injury!


Direct trauma, such as a hit to the jaw or chin can cause inflammation. Indirect trauma from grinding or clenching your teeth can be another cause. Whiplash from a car accident, a contact sport or a fall can also lead to inflammation in the joint.


There are some autoimmune conditions or arthritic conditions, like osteoarthritis which can lead to inflammatory changes in the TMJ and wear and tear of the cartilage and bony part of the joint. 


Sometimes, the disc inside the joint can shift or wear and become dislocated causing the jaw to lock in the wrong position. This is called internal derangement. The jaw will likely move to the affected side. When the disc is able to relocate itself spontaneously this is called a reduction, when it cannot reduce itself it is called a “locked jaw”. 


Hypermobility is also an issue that can cause TMJ dysfunction. When there is more than the normal amount of movement within the joint the jaw can more easily shift side to side and affect the alignment. It is common in this situation for the TMJ to have some clicking with hypermobility that may or may not be accompanied by pain. 


Occasionally the TMJ may be subjected to an open lock when the mouth is open to extremes such as yawning, singing or after a dental procedure due to the disc becoming elongated and not able to reduce on closing. 


Muscle spasms, upper body postural imbalance, temporal tendinopathy and fractures are other diagnoses for TMJ dysfunction.


It really is quite a complicated little joint!


How can Osteopathy help?

An osteopath at Oak Tree Osteopathy treating a patient with TMJ pain

Osteopaths are holistic practitioners who use their hands to work carefully to help release the muscles and ligaments around the joint and help the joint move without restriction. Your osteopath will work closely with you to choose the best treatment style for you. We will assess your posture and movements of your jaw, neck, shoulders and upper back to determine all the contributing factors!


A range of techniques may be used depending on your preference. They may include soft tissue massage inside and outside the mouth, joint mobilisation, gentle joint movement, dry needling, stretching and exercises that you can do at home.


At Oak Tree Osteopathy we also communicate with your local Boroondara dentists or other treating health care providers if necessary to make sure you have the best outcome possible and to prevent future recurrence.

Book Online

If you’re struggling with pain in your jaw, Dr. Caitlin Parker is available for consultations on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and some Saturdays. You can book online here


To read more about TMJ you could check out the TMJ Association website  or