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Jaw Pain: The Most Ignored Injury in America

If you’ve dealt with jaw pain and you are like me – which the research suggest most of you are – odds are you have done one the following to address it:

  1. Ignored it altogether

  2. Casually mentioned it to your dentist or hygienist at your biannual cleaning

  3. Bought a product online or over the counter to attempt get some relief

  4. Turned to social media for tips & tricks that may help

After all, what else would you do if you have jaw pain? Or where else could you go to treat these symptoms? These examples are the most common ways of addressing jaw pain because most of us don’t know that there are other options. Again, if you are like me, you may not have even known that there are specialists who treat jaw conditions and can help you resolve your symptoms with very simple fixes.

Jaw pain is annoying and affects some of our most vital functions: chewing and speaking. If you have dealt with these symptoms you know how frustrating, painful, and frightening they can be. I personally dealt with these symptoms at an early age – you can read about my own story in this blog I wrote a few years ago. But that’s not what I am here to talk about today – today I want to highlight the fact that jaw pain is so prevalent and, yet, so ignored in our current medical model. In fact, some statistics indicate that jaw pain is the 2nd most prevalent musculoskeletal pain Americans face today, just behind low back pain. Unfortunately it is also the least treated musculoskeletal condition!

Why is this the case? No practitioner has truly taken ownership of treating the jaw. Often Dentists or Orthodontists are the practitioners who treat people with jaw pain because they work in people’s mouths. Unfortunately, most of those treatments start and stop with the application of a mouth guard (night splint, mouth appliance, etc). While these devices can be helpful, this would be the equivalent of permanently putting your injured shoulder in a sling. It helps to reduce pain, strain, and load, but it rarely helps return you to full function.

I have good news for you! There is another path. This path can and does often include a mouth appliance, but it begins by understanding that the jaw is just like every other joint in the body; meaning it has bone, cartilage, connective tissue, muscle, and neural structures. It also means that it must be treated like every other injury.

How do we do this?

  • First, we unload it and treat the underlying inflammation to reduce pain.

  • Second, we restore normal, pain-free range of motion and improve movement quality.

  • Third, we restore function and create habits that maintain such function.

What type of practitioners do such a thing?

Physical therapists of course!

Remember when I mentioned that no practitioner has taken ownership of the jaw? Physical therapists are slowly beginning to step in to help, because we’ve recognized that there is a tremendous shortage of practitioners who will own the jaw. Steve Kraus is a physical therapist who dedicated his life to researching and treating jaw conditions in Atlanta, Georgia. He built a loyal network of referring providers who understood that his methodology of treating jaw conditions was changing people’s lives. Our team had the pleasure of being trained by Steve Kraus and will continue to carry on what he started. You should know that not ALL physical therapists, dentists, or orthodontists have training to effectively help you with your jaw pain. Choose carefully and do your research first! Make sure your selected provider has extensive training in treating temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD).

If you are struggling with any form of the following, you will more than likely benefit from physical therapy:

  • Popping & clicking

  • Locking

  • Limited opening

  • Pain with chewing

  • Grinding or clenching

  • Pain with speaking

The best part about seeing a physical therapist for these symptoms is that you won’t spend thousands of dollars, AND you will likely begin to experience relief within just a few sessions. ….

Thanks for reading!

Jake Reynolds, PT, DPT, OCS

Physical Therapist

Board Certified Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy


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