What is the TMJ?
The Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) connects the lower jaw to the skull, and is responsible for the movement of the jaw and the opening and closing of the mouth. This is the most used joint in the body and it affects our ability to talk, to chew, and to swallow. Any disruption or damage to these joints can lead to severe joint and muscle pain.
Causes and risk factors for TMJ Dysfunction (TMJD):
- Clenching or grinding
- A blow to the jaw from sports or other accidents
- Motor vehicle accident injuries (like whiplash)
- Poor posture and body mechanics
- Damage to teeth causing tooth loss or misalignment of the bite
- Overuse such as with gum chewing, biting nails, thrusting the jaw forward during talking or exercising
- People who are required to talk a lot for work or singers.
Do you have TMJ Dysfunction?
- Clicking and popping of the jaw when you open or close your mouth
- Pain in the jaw area (directly in front of the ears) when opening and closing the mouth
- Pain when yawning, chewing or biting
- Earaches or fullness in your ear
- Jaw pain or tenderness
- Jaws that get stuck or locked (notably, when at the dentist or talking for extended periods)
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
Types of TMJD Treatments at NPW:
Because the TMJ is supported and suspended solely by soft tissue this makes it the ideal condition to be treated with massage therapy.
The massage therapists at Natural Path Wellness have been specially trained to isolate and treat the muscles of mastication that cause TMJ pain to help relieve pain, decompress the joint and correct asymmetrical tightness of the muscles.
What to expect during massage treatment:
- Assessment to identify which muscles are involved. This includes having you move your jaw while the therapists watches for any anomalies.
- Massage of the neck and shoulder muscles that are involved in head and neck posture and treatment of any trigger points that may be present causing referral pain that aggravates the TMJ.
- Massage the muscles of the face and head. This helps to loosen and relieve any muscles attached in and around the external jaw.
- Using a gloved hand, massage of the muscles inside the mouth. This allows for access to the small muscles that are directly attached to the TMJ and can have dramatic affects on the outcome of the treatment.
- Further massage of the upper chest muscles and other postural muscles that could contribute to dysfunction of the TMJs would be added to that treatment or future treatments also.
Acupuncture/TCM is extremely helpful in relieving pain and tension related to TMJ pain and strain. It works to relieve muscle tension/ spasms, decrease pain and swelling, and to release the jaw creating more free movement.
Acupuncture is helpful in reducing the stress/ anxiety and tension which can be an underlying cause of the TMJ pain you are experiencing.
TCM works with the pain at hand, but also always with the root cause/s. Patients with acute pain can experience relief in a few treatments, with chronic cases it can take a series of treatments.
An Osteopathic Approach to TMJD
The osteopathic approach to TMJD includes the evaluation and potentially, treatment of the whole body, as imbalances at a distance may be contributing to an imbalance at the temporo-mandibular joint.
Therefore before a focused evaluation /treatment of the TMJ occurs, the osteopath will make sure that any contributing causes from elsewhere in the body (ie. an imbalance in the pelvis or spine) are addressed.
Once a global assessment is completed, specific assessment and treatment to the neck, jaw and cranio-facial bones will follow. This involves techniques for the soft tissues, including the muscles, ligaments and fascia, as well as specific techniques to release tensions at the articulations of the neck, cranial and facial bones, as well as the temporo-mandibular joints. This may involve the practitioner doing gentle stretches and manipulations inside of the mouth to reach deeper structures.
Of course, this type of intra-oral work is done with disposable gloves and in careful communication with the client to ensure consent and comfort.