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Relieve TMJ Pain

Relieve TMJ Pain with Massage Therapy

As a result of a tremendous exposure to stress, the development of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders has reached pandemic proportions. Disorders of the jaw are typically referred to by the same name, TMJ or TMD. The temporomandibular joint connects the mandible to the skull’s temporal bone and contributes to the acts of biting, chewing, swallowing, speaking and making facial expressions. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states over 10 million people in the United States suffer from TMJ problems.


Pain is the most common TMJ symptom. The pain is often described as a transient, dull ache in the jaw joint and nearby areas, including the ear. Instead of pain, some sufferers only have problems in the use of  their jaws. TMJ sufferers experience high-intensity headaches, difficulty with chewing, painful joint clicking and popping, and other symptoms. With the progression of the pathology, individuals may even develop sleep disorders. Additional symptoms of TMJ can include:
  • Inability to open the mouth comfortably
  • Clicking, popping or grating sounds in the jaw joint
  • Locking of the jaw when attempting to open the mouth
  • Headaches
  • A bite that feels uncomfortable or “off”
  • Neck, shoulder and back pain
  • Swelling on the side of the face
  • Tinnitus or ear pain
  • Dizziness

TMJ symptoms often improve without treatment in a matter of weeks to months. However, some individuals experience an increase in symptom severity, and may develop long-term chronic jaw pain.


TMJ can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Local injury
  • Dental work/oral surgery
  • Whiplash
  • Arthritis
  • Widespread joint pain from another condition
  • Sinus or ear infections
  • Headaches
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding and clenching)
  • Stress

Although teeth grinding and stress are not the leading causes of TMJ, difficulty relaxing may be a common cause many sufferers are unaware of. Holding the body tout, including the jaw, is a common response to stress. Whether metaphorical for “keeping one’s mouth shut”, a result of the incredible strength and control we have over the mandible, or due to another reason, emotional tension can easily be reflected in the temporomandibular joint.

TMJ Anatomy:
The TMJ is formed by the temporal and mandibular bones. Attached to the mandibular condyle is a fibrocartilage meniscus or articular disk, which allows the mandible to move smoothly. The masticatory muscles (temporalis, masseter, lateral pterygoid, and medial pterygoid) are responsible for movement and stabilization of the TMJ.

Due to stress, people often develop bruxism. Bruxism is a pathological clenching and grinding of teeth that usually occurs during sleep. Bruxism is caused by the hyperactive contraction of the masticatory muscles. Imagine any other muscles in our support and movement system kept under tight contraction for seven hours. Pathological hypertonus in these muscles will be formed, followed by restriction of range of motion, trigger point development, and other symptoms. With time, hypertonic condition in the masticatory muscles leads to the development of osteoarthritis in the TMJ, including negative effects on the articular meniscus. In such a case, the above-mentioned TMJ pathology starts producing severe headaches and painful "clicks."

Many types of healthcare professionals can be involved in TMJ treatment. This spectrum includes, but is not limited to, physicians, pain specialists, chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncturists, dentists and bodyworkers. In certain cases, a splint or mouth guard is crafted specifically for the individual to prevent the TMJ from slipping out of place. Reconstructive jaw surgery is rarely employed for TMJ and is typically the very last resort. Some self-help suggestions to offer clients suffering with a painful jaw include:
  • Maintain good posture while working at a computer, watching TV and reading. Pause frequently to change position, rest hands and arms, and relieve stressed muscles.
  • Make a habit of relaxing the facial and jaw muscles throughout the day.
  • Avoid chewing gum and eating hard foods.
  • Apply moist heat to increase the circulation around tense jaw muscles.
  • Use relaxation techniques to reduce overall stress and muscle tension in the entire body.

Massage therapy and Post-Isometric Relaxation Techniques for TMJ Disorders:

Bodywork is an ideal modality to relieve the pain of TMJ.  Massage therapy should be focused toward the reduction of tension in the masticatory (chewing) muscles, releasing tension in fascia, and elimination of trigger points (the hyperirritable “knots” felt in the muscle that refer pain elsewhere). Post-isometric relaxation is an extremely important tool for the restoration of the range of motion.

Full-Body Stress-Management Massage:
As mentioned before, stress is the main cause of the development of bruxism and TMJ disorders; therefore, it is very important to those who suffer from TMJ disorders (in addition to the protocol which I offer you in this article) to receive full-body stress-management massage. From my experience, the phenomenon of bruxism can be reduced within five full-body stress-management massage treatments given on a weekly basis. Elimination of bruxism is an extremely important factor that will allow the masticatory muscles to be restored to normal metabolism and prevent re-accumulation of tension in the muscles.