Treating TMJ issues: what various professions do to help

I’m going to write about what various healing professions do to treat TMJ issues to help you be good consumers and know what to expect in terms of results. I am a massage therapist who specializes in TMJ work, including intra-oral (inside the mouth) work, in which I’ve had special training.

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 have the skills to release tension in the external jaw and neck muscles. Maybe that’s all you need, if your jaw pain isn’t severe and it comes and goes. You will feel better after such sessions.

But if you are really suffering from chronic or severe jaw pain and dysfunction, you probably want a lot more than that. You will 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 and uses gloves or finger cots.

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

These are the major results that help with TMJ symptoms, along with the professional training that can provide them:

  • 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 (any kind of therapist with trigger point release training)
  • releasing your neck tension (massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor)
  • getting your pelvis aligned and balanced (massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor)
  • preventing your teeth from cracking due to bruxism (dentist)
  • reducing tension in your internal jaw muscles (massage therapist with special training, physical therapist with special training, Rolfer)
  • getting craniosacral therapy to restore alignment in the external cranial bones (craniosacral therapist)
  • getting craniosacral therapy to restore alignment in the internal cranial bones (craniosacral therapist)
  • repairing a torn or perforated articular disk (oral surgeon — get reviews first)
  • getting whole-body therapy to help with alignment and release strain patterns (craniosacral therapist, Rolfer, Zero Balancer, yoga teacher, yoga therapist)

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

 

Treating TMJ issues: the jaw-pelvis connection

The jaw-pelvis connection is real! When I ask my TMD (temporomandibular disorder) clients if they also have pelvic alignment issues, most of them say yes. If your pelvis is out of alignment, most often so is your jaw, and vice versa.

When receiving bodywork to get one area realigned, the other often follows. Sometimes I have one hand in your mouth and the other on your pelvis.

Here’s how that relationship works: The pelvis includes the root of the spine, your sacrum. Your jaw — mandible — is near the upper end of your spine, and it has a special relationship with C1 and C2, the uppermost vertebrae of your spine.

Because the opening/closing motion of the jaw is both hinging and gliding, the axis of rotation is not in the TMJs but is between these two vertebrae (Guzay’s theorem). When your jaw is misaligned, it affects these vertebrae, impacting spinal and head posture and neurological well-being.

How does that happen? The dura mater is a tough, inelastic membrane that lines the inside of your cranium and forms a loose sheath surrounding the spinal cord that is attached to C1, C2, and C3 and then descends all the way down to the sacrum.

When the jaw is not aligned, it torques the dura mater at the upper end of the spine, which translates all the way down to the sacrum. This torquing can cause scoliosis, lordosis, kyphosis, pelvic rotation, head tilt, and cranial bone misalignment, which can affect your endocrine system and spinal nerves.

Conversely, a pelvic injury can affect the jaw. If your pelvis is giving you problems, put your fingers in front of your ears and open and close your jaw. Notice if your left and right TMJs feel different or the same. You may notice one side opens first or is more restricted or otherwise moves asymmetrically. You may not have pain, however.

Maybe this is why nine times more women than men suffer from TMJ disorders. Women tend to have more issues with their pelvic floors as well as hormonal imbalances. Who knows which came first?

Coming soon: more about the relationship between the jaw and the endocrine system.