Treating TMJ issues: what chiropractors do to help

Okay, I admit that I’m in unfamiliar territory here. I’m using Google to watch videos of how chiropractors treat TMJ pain and dysfunction.

By now, we know what TMJ disorder is, the various causes, and several other treatments. I am looking at what chiropractors actually do to treat it, and I am interested in hearing from (and about) local chiropractors who use other techniques than the ones described here, so please comment, and if you have a video, please provide a link.

I found a useful video from a Canadian chiropractor, Dr. Walter Salubro, who demonstrates how he assesses the motion of the jaw by observing a patient opening and closing her jaw and noticing whether it deviates to the right or left. He does a “three finger test” to determine if the jaw can open to a normal degree. He then assesses the bones in the neck for subluxations (misalignments), especially at the upper neck/base of skull. He demonstrates adjusting the neck and then adjusting the TMJ on both sides using a drop table that releases misalignments. Then he reassesses. (8:43)

Dr. Jason Scolar demonstrates the Active Release Technique for TMJ dysfunction. He works to release the external jaw muscles — the masseter and temporalis — as the patient opens and closes her jaw. Then he uses his hand to release adhesions in the jaw joints one side at a time with a typical chiropractic joint-popping movement. (I’m sure this has a technical name, but I don’t know what it is. If you’ve had traditional chiropractic treatment, you’ll know what I mean.)

He also works on the underside of the mandible to release muscle tension there. Then he puts on gloves to work inside the patient’s mouth. He mentions it will be more uncomfortable and more painful. I see him working rather quickly on the lateral pterygoid, again as the patient opens and closes her mouth (you can see the pain on her face), and then he does an external adjustment to the jaw. (5:55)

By the way, the Active Release Technique is practiced by massage therapists (mostly doing sports massage), chiropractors, and physical therapists. You can google “Active Release Technique” to see who’s certified in the Austin area. Not all may do jaw work.

There may be other techniques that chiropractors use to treat TMJ. What I like is assessing the upper neck and working there. I’ve noticed it’s usually quite tight in people who have come to me with jaw issues. The axis of the jaw opening and closing is actually in the upper neck, at C2, so I see how working there can improve jaw function.

I myself prefer not to have any kind of sudden adjustment, especially not in my neck. It may get the bones in place, but it feels jarring and unsettling to my nervous system and takes a while to recover my energetic equilibrium. I work on the upper neck using techniques that are gentle and slow. I know many others do appreciate  the pop.

What I want to get across is that some chiropractors are good at helping people with jaw issues. If you want to try chiropractic treatment for your TMJ issues, it’s a good idea to:

  • check out the training, experience, and techniques chiropractors use for treatment
  • ask for recommendations from people with the same issue

See you back here tomorrow!

Treating TMJ issues: what various professions do to help

What do various healing professions do to treat TMJ issues?

I’m going to try to answer that, to help you be better health-care consumers and know what to expect in terms of results.

By the way, I am a massage therapist who specializes in TMJ work, including intra-oral (inside the mouth) work, in which I’ve had advanced training from three teachers and experience since 2013. I admit, I am biased!

I want to say up front that most massage therapists do not work inside the mouth, which is where the jaw muscles most likely to be causing TMJ pain are located. Most massage therapists do have the skills to release tension in the external jaw and neck muscles.

Maybe that’s all you need, if your jaw pain is mild and intermittent. You will feel better after such sessions.

But if you are really suffering from chronic or more severe jaw pain and dysfunction, you definitely need more than that to get relief. You could greatly benefit from intra-oral work, which takes special training and experience to do effectively.

Do not hesitate to ask whether a therapist you are considering working with is trained in releasing tension in the internal jaw muscles.

Also, since COVID is still around, ask what their COVID safety protocols are.

Whole-body work can also help, when the TMJ pain is related to your posture (for instance, head forward posture) or to muscle tension due to stress.

Here’s a look at results you might expect from working with practitioners in different professions:

  • reducing stress (massage therapist, acupuncturist, yoga teacher, meditation teacher)
  • reducing tension in your external jaw muscles (massage therapist)
  • releasing trigger points in your external jaw muscles (massage therapist)
  • doing myofascial release on your external jaw muscles (massage therapist)
  • releasing neck tension (massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor)
  • getting your pelvis aligned and balanced (massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor)
  • getting your head aligned on top of your spine (chiropractor)
  • preventing your teeth from cracking due to grinding (dentist or OTC night guard)
  • reducing tension in your internal jaw muscles (massage therapist with special training, physical therapist with special training, Rolfer)
  • restoring alignment in the cranial bones (craniosacral therapist)
  • repairing or replacing a dysfunctional articular disk (oral surgeon)
  • getting whole-body therapy to help with alignment issues and release strain patterns (craniosacral therapist, Rolfer, Zero Balancer, yoga teacher, yoga therapist)

There is one major caveat here: these are generalities based on my own knowledge and experience. Each profession has its specialties. Not all physical therapists work on the jaw or pelvis — in fact, not many do.

Do not hesitate to ask questions and do your own research.

This is a brief and imperfect overview to help you get the results you want, and there are many fine points not mentioned here.

I invite you to work with me!

MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT, BCTMB
Austin, Texas
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy • TMJ Relief
online scheduler:
text or voicemail: 512-507-4184