Temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD is more commonly referred to as simply TMJ after the joint itself. This is the joint that connects your mandible, or lower jaw, to your skull just under your ears. Problems with this joint or the muscles in the face can lead to pain in this area. An injury that affects the lower jaw, such as whiplash, can be one cause as well as grinding of the teeth, the soft cushion in the joint moving, arthritis, or stress.
TMJ is more common for women than men and seems to affect more people between the ages of 20 and 40. The condition causes extreme discomfort and pain that can become chronic if not addressed.
- Pain in the face, jaw joint, neck, and shoulders especially when chewing
- Difficulty opening the mouth wide
- The jaw sticking in an open or closed position
- Popping, clicking, or grating sounds with jaw movement, which may or may not be painful
- Tired facial muscles
- Trouble chewing or pain while chewing
- Top and bottom teeth not fitting together properly
- Facial swelling
- Headaches in the temporal area of the head or dizziness
- Earaches, plugged feeling in the ears, or hearing problems
- Ringing in the ears, which is also known as Tinnitus
How many people does it affect?
According to the dental division of the National Institutes of Health, it is unknown how many people actually suffer from TMJ. It is believed that it affects over ten million people in the United States. Many of the cases go unreported as it is considered a minor nuisance rather than an extreme chronic pain condition and people who experience some of the more minor symptoms may choose to ignore it.
For patients who do experience extreme pain and discomfort from the effects of TMJ, there are some non-invasive techniques that can provide relief.
Massage for TMJ
Massage is a great solution for a number of problems. It can be relaxing and help reduce stress. It can work the kinks out of painful muscles. Every part of an appointment with a massage therapist is designed to provide a restorative experience. Some will even utilize aromatherapy to help the body respond to the muscle work. You can simply get comfortable and let the professionals do their work.
Massage therapy works by targeting trigger points along the body. These are what we often refer to as knots when we are experiencing aches and pains. By putting pressure on these points it can relieve the pain the patient is experiencing.
For jaw pain, the targeted muscle is called the masseter muscle. It is the muscle that you use primarily for chewing that is located on the sides of your face. When it is tight, from stress or injury, it can contribute to TMJ pain as well as the grinding of teeth. Releasing the tension in this muscle can be one of the remedies to help alleviate these problems.
Of course the most relaxing way to alleviate tension in your facial muscles is to make an appointment with a skilled massage therapist. Contact specialists in your area who are trained not only in general massage but also in facial massage to work with you and your TMJ symptoms.
Self-massage for TMJ
There is even better news when it comes to TMJ relief: self-massage can be just as effective as professional massage and can be concentrated on the area requiring pain relief. All it takes is some time to understand how to effectively place pressure on the correct trigger areas.
Professional massage therapist Andrea Turner offers these tips on her website:
- Imagine yourself in a family portrait and place a loose fist under your jaw
- Gently open your mouth to apply light pressure on your jaw
- Count to seven silently
- Relax your jaw and count to three
- Repeat three times
She does indicate that this is a temporary fix and that you should seek care from a professional to help you with more permanent solutions, such as mouth guards to prevent recurring pain in the jaw.
Of course the masseter muscle isn’t the only contributor to pain associated with TMJ. There is a corresponding muscle in the upper part of your skull that also connects to the jawbone. This is known as the temporal muscle. This may be one of the reasons headaches are a common symptom of TMJ. When you have a headache, you may find yourself rubbing your temples to gain some relief, which is a natural response to head pain and surprisingly effective.
This video from You Tube user Mind-Body Conspiracy provides detailed directions to help reduce the tension in your jaw and facial muscles to alleviate pain from TMJ. He recommends focusing on the myofascial tissues of the face rather than directly on the muscles.
Another video, by Massage Sloth, shares that opinion and provides a demonstration of myofascial release. This is the technique that professional massage therapists will use for their patients who are dealing with the painful effects of TMJ.
What you can do
The first step to tackling the pain you’re feeling from TMJ is to get a proper diagnosis. Talk to a pain specialist or a facial specialist to better understand if the symptoms you’re experiencing are related to TMJ. If so, talk to them about treatments such as massage. In many cases you may even get a prescription for the sessions that can be paid for in part by your insurance company. Learning other stress-relieving techniques will also be critical in solving the puzzle of TMJ pain in your life.
Once you have a proper diagnosis, we recommend that you work with a professional massage therapists who will help you better understand some of the self-massage techniques that you can use at home. With this combination you can feel relief from the facial pain caused by TMJ.
Do you have TMJ? What have you done to alleviate the pain?
Image by Jenavieve via Flickr