What is Temporomandibular Joint Pain and What Causes It?

TMJ, short for Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, is the inflammation of the temporomandibular joint. This disorder can be chronic or acute.

The temporomandibular joint is the structure that connects the mandible to the skull at the base of the external ear. TMJ pain can be caused by a lot of factors that involve over-opening of the joint and/or aggressive sliding of the jaw side-ways or forward. These jaw movements may result from parafunctional routines or disorders in the alignment of the jaw bones.

Specific conditions that lead to TMJ include bruxism (grinding of teeth during sleep), defective crowns of teeth, trauma to the jaw, excessive biting of the nails or chewing gum, eating large food pieces that put strain on the jaw, and degenerative diseases involving the joint, such as osteoarthritis.

Which Areas Are Affected?

TMJ does not only affect the jaw; it also affects surrounding tissues as well. Symptoms related to TMJ include jaw pain, dull facial pain, headache, migraines, ear pain, difficulty biting or chewing, popping, clicking, or grating sound upon jaw movement, hearing loss, tinnitus or ringing in the ears, dizziness, and pain in the shoulders and neck.
Because TMJ is very near the ears, pain on the area may be mistakenly identified as problems with the ear and face.


Conventional management for TMJ include anti-inflammatory medication, soft diet, warm and cold packs, dental treatments, and sometimes surgery. Chiropractic care is an alternative management for TMJ that helps you to avoid invasive procedures, such as surgery. Chiropractic care for TMJ focuses on tension relief in the muscles around the temporomandibular joint, which is usually the main cause. Trigger point therapy and massage works inside and outside the mouth to relieve pain and restore joint function. A trigger point is a group of muscle fibers that connects to the affected area; Chiropractors manipulate these trigger points to alleviate pain. Dr. Mohr, your Tampa chiropractor, is experienced in finding these trigger points and using them to alleviate your pain and symptoms.

The trigger points for TMJ include:

  • Sternocleidomastoid muscle. This muscle is located on the lateral portion of the neck. Manipulation of this area reduces pain in the jaw, forehead and eye sockets.
  • Trapezius muscle. This is located at the back base of the neck and is essential for relieving pain at the ear, jaw bone and temple.
  • Medial pterygoid muscle. This muscle is located at the back of the molars. This trigger point affects the pain in the temporomandibular joint, nose, ear, jaw and neck.
  • Masseter muscle. This muscle is located at the back of the jaw. Manipulation of this muscle relieves pain in the ear, upper jaw and forehead.

Chiropractic management of TMJ also involves manipulation of the jaw through stretching the joint to release fibrous connections caused by trauma. The patient may also be given specific exercises to enhance flexibility of the tissues in the TMJ.

Chiropractic care is a complementary and alternative medicine technique that can help relieve TMJ pain without invasive therapies. If you would like to discuss your treatment options, please request your appointment here or give our office a call at (813) 983-7921.