A Comprehensive Approach to Managing TMJ Dysfunction

Written by:
Dr. Ashlea Lytle
October 10, 2023

I wrote this blog after hosting a Zoom call with various practitioners in the Denver area. The topic of discussion was how to manage TMJ Dysfunction. By combining some of the strategies listed below, you can take significant steps towards alleviating TMJ/TMD symptoms and regaining comfort in your daily life.  


  • Dr. Tia Totura, PT, DPT, physical therapist and TMJ/TMD specialist at Activcore
  • Dr. Chelsea Speegle, PT, DPT, pelvic physical therapist and TMJ/TMD specialist at Activcore
  • Jamie Francis, MSPT, physical therapist and certified hypnotist at Denver Pain and Performance
  • Josh Landis, CSCS, CMT, strength and conditioning specialist at Denver Pain and Performance
  • Dr. Marci Catallo-Madruga, PT, DPT, CFMP, physical therapist at Agility Physical Therapy
  • Dr. Tanya Atagi, MD, plastic surgeon at Atagi Plastic Surgery & Atagi Skin Aesthetics 


The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a hinge-like joint that connects your jawbone to your skull. TMJ disorder (TMD) encompasses a range of conditions that affect this joint and the surrounding muscles. Common symptoms of TMJ/TMD include jaw pain, clicking or popping sounds when opening or closing the mouth, headaches, earaches, and difficulty chewing.

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ/TMD) is a condition that affects the jaw joint and the muscles surrounding it, causing pain, discomfort, and limited jaw function. It can be a challenging condition to manage, but a multi-faceted approach that includes manual therapy, trigger point dry needling, tongue exercises, proper nutrition, hypnosis, acupuncture, craniosacral, and surgery can help alleviate symptoms and improve overall well-being. In this blog, we will explore these different strategies for managing TMJ/TMD and provide insights into how they can work together to provide relief.  


Hands-on techniques performed by a trained professional to assess and treat TMJ/TMD. Some examples include:

  • Myofascial Release. Gentle manipulation of the facial and neck muscles to release tension and improve mobility.
  • Manual Stretching. Specific stretches to improve jaw range of motion and reduce muscle tightness.
  • Joint Mobilizations. Techniques to gently move and reposition the TMJ to relieve pain and improve function.


A therapeutic technique that involves the insertion of a thin, sterile needle into trigger points or tight muscles.  This technique can help by relieving muscle tension, reducing pain and promoting healing.  


A simple and effective way to help manage TMJ/TMD by strengthening and balancing the muscle in and around the mouth. These exercises can improve muscle coordination and reduce stress on the TMJ. Some examples include:

  • Tongue Posture. Maintain proper tongue posture by resting it gently on the roof of your mouth, behind your upper front teeth.
  • Tongue Press. Press your tongue firmly against the roof of your mouth and hold for a few seconds, repeating several times.  
  • Lateral Tongue Movement. Move your tongue from side to side while keeping your mouth closed.


A "zero-gravity" system that allows you to safely exercise and rebalance your muscles from head to toe, without interference of pain or compensation. It's sort of like how a mechanic lifts your car to balance the tires and fix the alignment.


A state of focused attention, heightened suggestibility, and deep relaxation. There are 3 ways hypnosis can help with TMJ/TMD symptoms:

  • Induce a state of deep relaxation
  • Altering the way the brain processes pain signals
  • Modifying behaviors that contribute to TMJ/TMD, such as teeth grinding or clenching.


Food plays a crucial role in managing TMJ/TMD as it can influence inflammation and muscle tension.  Consider these recommendations:

  • Anti-inflammatory Diet. Incorporate foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants (such as berries and leafy greens), and anti-inflammatory spices (like tumeric and ginger)
  • Hydration. Stay well-hydrated to keep your muscle and joints lubricated 
  • Avoid Trigger Foods. Some individuals find that certain foods, like hard candies or chewing gum, exacerbate their symptoms.  Pay attention to your diet and identify any triggers.  


A specialized technique that involves inserting thin needles into specific points of the body to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissues. This stimulation may release endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, providing relief.  Acupuncture also increases blood flow to the affected area to help with muscle relaxation and can also reduce stress and anxiety, which may indirectly alleviate TMJ/TMD symptoms.


A form of alternative medicine that focuses on manipulating the craniosacral system, which includes the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord. There are 4 ways craniosacral therapy can help with TMJ/TMD:

  • Relaxation
  • Improved Circulation
  • Nervous system regulation
  • Stress reduction


Surgery for TMJ/TMD can be an option but is usually the last resort. Success rate for TMJ/TMD surgery is about 70% for pain improvement and 60% for mouth opening improvement within 12 months. 


Managing TMJ/TMD can be a complex and ongoing process. A comprehensive approach that includes manual therapy, trigger point dry needling, exercises, proper nutrition, hypnosis, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, and possibly surgery can provide relief and improve the quality of life for individuals dealing with this condition. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional for a personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

If you're not sure where to start, contact me at Activcore Denver.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this post are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.

Dr. Ashlea Lytle

VP Colorado Region | Physical Therapist
Ashlea Lytle is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) who has been practicing for over a decade in the Denver area. She specializes in orthopedics and pelvic health for adults and kids. She primarily works at Activcore in Castle Rock, Colorado.


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