TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder)

Bob's patient story

Bob Unruh was facing the possibility of jaw surgery—or in more technical terms, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) surgery. The TM joints are located on each side of the jaw and act like a sliding hinge, connecting the jawbone to the skull. They are used more than any other joint in the body, allowing the jaw to open and close for talking, chewing, swallowing, yawning, and other movements.

An Injury Begins a Journey

Bob’s problem began with a dinner. He describes how his jaw “cracked” and shifted as he took a bite of chicken. Although he did feel it snap back, the pain persisted, even with anti-inflammatory medication. His teeth no longer touched on the right side and he experienced difficulty when eating. 

Bob consulted with his primary care physician who referred him to an oral surgeon.

Treatment Options Explored

Because issues involving joints and muscles of the jaw are complex, Bob’s oral surgeon suggested a specialist in TMJ to help determine the best treatment.

An MRI revealed osteoarthritis in his right jaw. Bob was offered physical therapy (PT) in an effort to reduce his pain and improve his jaw function. If PT was not effective, he would need to consider surgery.

The 69-year-old explored his options for physical therapy. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bob felt more comfortable receiving his therapy virtually. He connected Kimberly Stauffer, DPT, a physical therapist based at Lancaster General Health’s Willow Lakes outpatient location.

Physical Therapy from the Safety and Convenience of Home

“Bob had seven visits—all virtual,” says Kimberly. “He worked hard with his home exercise program that included stretching, strengthening and endurance training. Gradually his range of motion began to improve.”

Kimberly was pleased with Bob’s progress and so happy to receive this message from him:

Kimberly…I just wanted to tell you I have canceled my scheduled jaw surgery. I continue to do my jaw exercises and experience improvement in my jaw. My teeth are touching on both sides and I can chew on both sides. It is WONDERFUL!!! I was very skeptical when I started the virtual therapy. Your skills as a therapist were a blessing to me. I could not be happier with the results. Thank you so much.

Learn more about physical therapy options at Lancaster General Health.

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