Massage therapy for jaw pain

The January/February 2019 issue of Massage & Bodywork (magazine for massage therapists) includes the article “Temporomandibular Joint Disorders: Biting Off More Than We Can Chew”. It’s full of information about the anatomy, pathology, demographics, contributing factors, symptoms, and treatment options for TMJD. The author is Ruth Werner, who wrote A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology.

The article mentions that many dental professionals enthusiastically recommend massage therapy as an early intervention for TMJ disorders, which are often accompanied by dysfunction elsewhere in the body — the shoulder girdle, pelvis, and feet, for example.   Regular massage therapy sessions can also help relieve pain and tension in the external jaw muscles.

The author states, “The [internal] pterygoid muscles require more specialized skill… Work inside the mouth carries some serious responsibilities… It’s not for beginners, and it’s not for dabbling. When things go wrong in this joint, problems can reverberate through the whole body… [Massage therapists working inside the mouth should] get advanced training…

“Intraoral massage may trigger unintended responses… Emotional release in response to work in and around the mouth is also a strong possibility. It is critical that massage therapists be mindful of their scope of practice and respectful of their clients’ processes if this happens. Massage therapists must be prepared to be present, nonjudgmental, and appropriately supportive for this kind of event. Once again, it’s not for dabblers. If you want to do this work, get appropriate training.”

After reading this, I feel good about what I do. Massage therapists trained to work inside the mouth mostly follow three paths of advanced training: craniosacral therapy (like me), neuromuscular therapy, and structural integration (aka Rolfing).

Also, not all craniosacral therapists or neuromuscular therapists work with the internal pterygoid muscles, so be sure to ask beforehand if that’s what you expect. That was part of my training with Ryan Hallford, not (so far) with the Upledger Institute.

Also, I’m thanking the Upledger Institute for my training in SomatoEmotional Release as well as past experience and research in trauma recovery.

I’m grateful to see that treatment for TMJ disorders by licensed massage therapists is getting media attention, and that TMJD itself is getting more recognition. The TMJ Association recently announced that the National Institutes of Health have agreed to do more research. It’s very much needed — practitioners know what we don’t know, and it’s a lot.

Treating TMJ issues: types, causes, and exercises

I just discovered an excellent new source of information about TMJ pain and dysfunction. It’s a really great website called Be My Healer offered by a doctor of physical therapy, Sophie Xie.

She’s got a couple of posts about TMJ issues. (If you have other issues, please look around. I am impressed with the quality of her posts in terms of credible information, writing to a lay audience, and her images. You go, Dr. Sophie Xie!)

First, this article helps distinguish between types and causes of TMJ dysfunction. In short:

  • Type 1 is arthrogenous TMJ, meaning the problem is related to the functioning of the bony temporomandibular joint. There are two causes: arthritis and disc displacement. She recommends the best treatments for each cause. (I can’t help with these, but exercises* can help. If you’re in Austin and have disc displacement, I can refer you to a couple of oral surgeons who are getting great results.)
  • Type 2 is myogenous, meaning muscle-related. Causes include bruxism (clenching and/or grinding), muscle imbalance (such as forward head posture, chewing on the same side, playing the violin), and systemic influence causing muscle tension (such as chronic stress, fibromyalgia, PMS).

Dr. Sophie Xie writes, “TMJ massage therapy can help by releasing the tense mastication muscle and provide pain and stress relief. However, you will need to call around to find a massage therapist who is specialized in intraoral release to receive the most targeted treatment.”

Here’s me raising my hand, signaling “Pick me!” I can help with all of the muscle-related types of TMD. I offer intra-oral work, help relieve forward-head posture, and help you relax from stress.

Again, exercises* can also help.

  • Type 3 is idiopathic, referring to a single cause: trauma impacting the joint  from accidents, injuries, dental treatments, even violent laughing or yawning.

Dr. Sophie Xie writes, “Post-traumatic TMJ pain is highly preventable. Early intervention such as physical therapy and massage therapy are excellent in preventing scar formation and muscle stiffness​. Gentle and progressive jaw stretching and exercises* will build a strong muscle function to keep chronic and repetitive TMJ pain away.”

Again, I can help.

*In her post Say goodbye to TMJ pain with these 5 convenient jaw exercises, Dr. Sophie Xie describes and shows (with delightful illustrations) exercises to strengthen and balance your jaw muscles.

She writes, “Most people experience significant TMJ pain reduction with daily exercises after 5-6 weeks. You should experience even faster results if you are also combining TMJ massage therapy with a nightly mouth guard.”

Her website has a contact page if you want to work with her. (I believe she’s practicing in Washington state.)

If you are in Austin, Texas, I’m happy to help.

Treating TMJ issues: videos of self-care techniques

If you suffer from jaw pain, you may want to try some of these jaw exercises and self-massage techniques.

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TMJ Exercises & Stretches to Relieve Jaw Pain — Ask Dr. Jo. 3:03. Dr. Jo is a physical therapist who demonstrates four simple exercises.

TMJ Massage: Pressure Points for Relief by MassageByHeather.com. 3:43. Massage therapist Heather Wibbels shows you four acupressure points for jaw pain. You hold them bilaterally for 30 seconds up to 2 minutes. If you’re looking for something you can do on an airplane without attracting too much attention, do these.

Absolute Best TMJ Treatment You Can Do Yourself for Quick Relief. 5:48. “Bob and Brad, the two most famous physical therapists on the internet” (as their theme song goes) show you how to massage your external jaw muscles.

10 Best TMJ Exercises to Stop Pain in Your Jaw. 11:57. Bob and Brad show you the standard relaxed position for your jaw along with several exercises. They cite the American Academy of Family Physicians as the source for these exercises. Start saving popsicle sticks!

TMJ Exercises #1, 11:25. Chiropractor Adam Fields demonstrates exercises for the back of the neck, which is often tight when you have TMD, tongue exercises, and massage, ending with a relaxation exercise. In TMJ Exercises #2, 10:07, he focuses on massaging the muscles that open and close your jaw. He helps you tie the jaw exercises and massage into really good posture — a good habit that will help relieve jaw tension.

Yoga to Release Jaw Tension from Grinding Teeth, Clenching, TMJ. 10:26. Karuna demonstrates self-massage to release jaw tension, including a technique you can do right before you go to sleep that may prevent clenching and grinding while asleep.

I’m interested in hearing back from you about which exercises help you the most. If you’ve found other helpful videos about TMJ self-care, please let me know.