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The Jaw: TMJ Dysfunction & Treatment by Osteopaths

The jaw (TMJ) is a joint that we don’t see much of in clinic, but it is within our remit. Clicking, locking, and pain here can have a significant impact on quality of life, but people don’t always know who they should see about it.

Anatomy of The Jaw

The jaw joint is unusual, in that it is influenced by the joint on the other side, and it has a complex range of movement. The interdependence between the two joints means that a problem on one side can easily affect the other. Treating the joint as symptoms arise is important.

Jaw Anatomy

Although the joint behaves largely like a hinge joint, it also moves side to side and forwards and backwards. Sometimes it’s one of these additional movements that is lost or affected when the joint is dysfunctional.

Within the joint is a disc of cartilage. Its role is to cushion and support the joint, but it can be the cause of symptoms. A small muscle in the cheek attaches directly to the disc, so when the muscle is tight, the disc can be pulled in the wrong way. If this causes the disc to fold, we can expect clicking, locking, and pain.

Causes of Jaw Problems


Pain, stiffness, and locking can come on after physical trauma. This could be anything from an injury during contact sport to a long dental procedure during which your mouth has been wide open. Mild repeated trauma can also have an impact.

Immediately after a traumatic injury to the jaw, it is generally good first aid to apply a cool compress. You may also want to see your dentist soon after, just in case there has been any damage to the teeth. If pain remains, you are welcome to make an appointment with us.


Another common cause is stress or anxiety. Some people grit or grind their teeth when stressed, and they may not realise this if they do it in their sleep. This causes tightness in the muscles that act on the jaw, including the ones that attach to the disc.

Stress can also affect the way you breathe, eventually making the muscles in the tops of your shoulders work harder than normal to help with breathing. This can have a similar effect to the postural changes listed below- or the stress itself can cause rounding of the shoulders and the development of the forward head posture.


A slightly more complicated cause is a forward head posture. Over time, the muscles acting on the jaw have to overwork in order to keep the mouth shut. This is generally a subconscious behaviour, as we try to keep our mouths shut by default. However, when the head is forward, the muscles on the front of the neck are pulled tight. Some of these attach to the bottom of the jaw, and tension in them works to pull the jaw open.

Jaw problems and posture

Beyond TMJ dysfunction, this posture can cause headaches and shoulder problems. Your osteopath can help you correct it with treatment and exercise. If your desk or driving posture are the cause, we can offer advice for that too.


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