What is TMJ/TMD in horses?

November 26th, 2016 9:34 PM | No Comments
The  TMJ is located below and to the front of the ears.  [photo credit: the Atlanta Equine Clinic]

The TMJ is located below and to the front of the ears. [photo credit: the Atlanta Equine Clinic]

Has your horse been acting a bit off lately?  Shaking his head, bracing against the bit, extra touchy around his ears?  His reliable performance has been anything but reliable lately and you aren’t sure if it’s just misbehavior or something more.  Before you chalk it up to just being disobedient, it’s always a good idea to have your vet check out the basics like teeth to make sure everything is fine physically.

You’ve heard of it in people, maybe you even suffer from it, but did you know that your horse can have TMJ (temporomandibular joint) issues as well?  But…what is the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) anyway and how can it affect your horse’s performance?

In the most basic of terms, the TMJ allows the horse to move his jaw properly, both for chewing food adequately, but also for overall health and balance of their biomechanics.  Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD) are numerous conditions that can cause pain and dysfunction of the TMJ and the surrounding muscles of the joint.  Various factors can contribute to issues with the TMJ in domesticated horses including bits, nosebands, lack of proper dental work, and more.  

Located below and to the front of the ears, the TMJ is actually complex joint and considered one of the hardest working joints that the horse has.  It is more than just a hinge for the jaw, but an entire system including soft tissue like muscles, ligaments, and cartilage.

Soft tissue bodywork like massage can help relax the area and release tension and reduce inflammation.

Soft tissue bodywork like massage can help relax the area and release tension and reduce inflammation.

What are signs that your horse might have TMJ issues?

One of the most common red flags that something could be wrong is decrease in performance level.  Things like shaking their head, sensitivity around the ears, behavioral issues, attempting to crib, and uneven wear of their teeth are signs you should have your horse examined by your veterinarian.  

What are the causes of TMD in horses?

Various factors can contribute to TMJ disorders and dysfunction including bacterial infections, chronic wear and tear, poor teeth and jaw alignment, and other irritations to the joint.  

How is TMD diagnosed?

While many do think to check their horse’s teeth when presented with issues like head tossing and spilling feed, not as many check for TMD issues.  If TMD is suspected in your horse, a veterinarian will palpate the joint area to check for any pain or tenderness.  If palpation shows some discomfort or other signs of concerns, your vet may recommend a comprehensive dental exam to check for any malalignment, tooth abscesses, and pain or stiffness in jaw movement.

Products like Back On Track's Therapeutic Head Cap increase circulation to help reduce inflammation and tension.

Products like Back On Track’s Therapeutic Head Cap increase circulation to help reduce inflammation and tension.

Once officially diagnosed, it is important to determine the cause of the tightness and inflammation in the joint and work to eliminate the issue whether it is a poor saddle fit or dental issue.  From there, treatment can include bodywork like massage and chiropractic, drugs like corticosteroids, myofascial/craniosacral work, and acupuncture.  It is crucial to treat the soft tissue around the TMJ to relieve tension and inflammation.  Products like Back On Track’s Therapeutic Equine Head Cap and Therapeutic Poll Cover work to increase circulation to the area to help release muscle tension and through the jaw and poll.  

TMD issues aren’t just found in people who are teeth grinders or clenchers, but can also be a problem seen in horses with performance or behavioral issues.  With proper treatment, TMD can be something that is managed and overcome.  

This post was sponsored by Back On Track USA, but all opinions are those of Pleasurehorse.com.

Leave a Reply