Massage for TMJ Dysfunction

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ave you ever experienced pain while talking or chewing? A popping or clicking in your jaw? Do you have a history of grinding your teeth? These are a few of the signs of a condition known as Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJD).

What is TMJD?

TMJD is the name for a group of symptoms that involve the temporomandibular, or jaw, joints. Besides jaw pain, grinding and popping, you may also experience limited jaw movement, ringing in the ears, dizziness, headaches, or pain and limited range of motion in the neck and shoulders.

TMJD can be brought on by a variety of problems such as traumatic injury to the jaw, an uneven bite, arthritis of the temporomandibular joint, or the slipping or tearing of the joint’s disk. Traumatic injuries in the neck and shoulders, such as whiplash, can also bring on TMJD. Other causes include stress overload and postural problems.

A quick picture

The temporal and mandible bones, from which the temporomandibular joint gets its name, is surrounded by ligaments and muscles which play a vital role in controlling the jaw’s position and movements. A small cushioning pad known as the disk assures a smoothly functioning joint.

Massage can reduce TMJD symptoms by relieving tension and discomfort in the muscles around the joint and those nearby in the neck and base of the skull.

How does massage help?

Researchers generally agree the most common element of TMJD is myofascial pain-discomfort in the muscles (myo) and their connective tissue coverings (fascia). Massage can relieve myofascial pain by releasing muscle tension and stretching contracted fascia of the muscles that control the jaw, neck and shoulders. As tissues relax, circulation increases. This softens fascia, cleanses tissues of irritating by-products of inflammation, and improves nutrition to stressed areas. Significant pain relief can result, including a decrease in the strength and frequency of headaches.

In addition, when tension from postural problems and contracted tissues is released, range of motion in the jaw, neck and shoulders can improve and the body can return to an easier, more natural posture.

In some cases, dentists treat TMJD with a splint or device to reposition the jaw. Massage can help relax the surrounding muscles so that a correct fitting can be made.


Stress, massage and TMJD

Physical or mental stress can play a major part in TMJD by increasing muscle tension and heightening sensitivity to pain. Massage can help, first by relieving pain, a major stressor for TMJD sufferers. Second, research shows that a relaxing massage calms the nervous system. This allows muscles to relax, slows and deepens the breath, and frees up energy for vital maintenance functions such as repair of injured tissue. In addition, just knowing there is something you can do to alleviate your symptoms, even temporarily, can reduce emotional stress by giving you some control over your situation.

Support for your healing

Early intervention that includes a complete dental examination will make it possible for your dentist and massage therapist to work together for the most professional, comprehensive treatment available.

Your massage therapist may employ a variety of massage techniques as well as ice massage and stretching. More important than specific techniques are the training and experience of your practitioner. Your therapist will be delighted to answer any questions about his or her background and approach.

Your therapist or dentist may have recommendations for your home care. For example, they may recommend that you apply heat (or sometimes cold) to the jaw joint to ease symptoms, avoid chewing gum or crunchy foods, and eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet.

Your massage therapist may also teach you simple stretching, self-massage and relaxation techniques to reduce muscle tension, relieve stress, and improve postural habits. In addition, you may help improve your condition by decreasing your stress level with activities such as aerobic exercise, yoga, breathing exercises or stress counseling.

Effective complementary care

If you have TMJD, therapeutic massage can be a powerful support to your dental treatment.

It can relieve pain, increase ease of movement and reduce headaches. In combination with your own self-care measures, massage can help you feel better, manage your stress, and enjoy your life more fully.

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