Treating TMJ issues: releasing trigger points in your jaw muscles

You have four jaw muscles: the two large ones on the outside of your head (the masseter and temporalis) and the four small ones inside your mouth (two medial pterygoids and two lateral pterygoids).

Any of them can get trigger points.

What is a trigger point? Healthy muscle tissue is made of bundles of fibers that run in the same direction. This tissue is pliable. It stretches or contracts when you move.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 8.36.04 AMA trigger point is a spot where the muscle tissue has lost its pliability. A massage therapist may feel that the fibers in a particular spot have become glued together and hard, creating a small nodule. The tissue feels denser and often rolls under the fingers, compared to healthy muscle tissue.

This causes that band of muscle fibers to become shorter and tighter, restricting full range of movement of the entire muscle.

If you can’t open your mouth wide, or move your jaw easily left and right, forward and back, you may very well have trigger points in your jaw muscles.

Trigger points usually feel tender when you apply pressure to them, and they may also refer pain elsewhere. They may also form “constellations.” This makes them the tricksters of the nervous system.

You can work on your own trigger points to release them. It helps if you’ve received trigger point work from an experienced massage therapist, but you can learn to do it yourself. Even then, you may prefer to have someone else work on them, especially if you have a lot of them in multiple jaw muscles.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 8.08.14 AMMy favorite reference book for working with trigger points is The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, third edition, by Clair Davies and Amber Davies.

It is written for laypeople to release their own trigger points, but I know many massage therapists who use it as a reference book in their offices.

When I am working on TMJ issues, I notice that many people have trigger points in their masseters, the big external jaw muscles on the sides of your face that run from your cheekbone to the bottom of your jawbone.

Here’s how to find trigger points in your own jaw: using a bit pressure, drag your fingers slowly down the masseter muscle on one side of your face. Do this several times, experimenting with adding pressure, and notice if there are tender spots or “roll-y” spots. Repeat on the other masseter.

If you don’t have masseter trigger points, this usually feels pretty good.

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Source: The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook

If you find trigger points in your masseters (and you can still have TMJ issues without them), there are several ways of treating them.

Some therapists apply a huge amount of pressure. I don’t recommend this because if you have TMJ issues, your jaw is probably already out of alignment, and this could make it worse.

A better way, in my opinion, is to use less pressure. Yes, you can gently release trigger points!

I learned to do this from a local (Austin) massage therapist who is very experienced with trigger point release. She’s worked on me and released many trigger points, teaching me how to do this in the process.

If you have a lot of trigger points, I highly recommend seeing her. She works intra-orally, as do I, but her experience is greater than mine, and she’s amazing at discovering patterns if you have “constellations” of trigger points. She’s going to be more efficient than I can possibly be. She is the queen!

If you are interested in having her work on you, her name is Rose of Sharon, and you can reach her by phone or text at 512-282-1672. Please leave a message with your name and number so she can contact you.

Treating TMJ issues: foods and nutrients that can make a difference

There are so many things you can do to relieve the stress that usually accompanies TMJ pain and dysfunction. Today I want to write about nutrients that can make a difference.

You can buy these as supplements and sometimes that’s easiest, but studies are finding that our bodies are not absorbing some of the expensive supplements we take to improve our health. Fresh and organic foods make it more likely that your body will absorb and integrate these nutrients for your benefit.

The B-complex vitamins are 8 vitamins that often occur together in food sources. They give us energy, and stress depletes them, so when you’re stressed, you need even more to avoid fatigue. Note that 30-60% of people do not absorb folic acid (B9) and B12 unless they are in the methylated form, so if you’re buying a supplement, read the labels. Best food sources: meat (especially liver), salmon, dairy, eggs, legumes, brewer’s yeast, spinach, and mushrooms.

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Vitamin C produces collagen, which produces cartilage in your joints. The articular disk in your TMJ is made of cartilage, and you want to keep it healthy. Vitamin C is easily depleted by stress. Best food sources: fruits like guava, oranges, kiwi, grapefruit, and strawberries, and veggies like bell peppers, kale, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.

Vitamin D3 helps with bone health and muscle function, decreases pain, and improves feelings of well-being. Most people (except those working outdoors with the sun shining directly on their skin without sunscreen) need to supplement to get enough, although you can get some of the D3 you need from sunshine. Outside peak UV hours is best, of course. Cod liver oil is the highest food source.

Glucosamine helps preserve joint health, rebuilding cartilage, lubricating joints, reducing pain, and improving range of motion. More effective than ibuprofen at reducing pain, it can also help with jaw clicking. This is a nutrient that isn’t easily found in food, except for bone broth made with chicken feet, ox tails, marrow, tendons, knuckle or cartilaginous joints, or shrimp shells. If you supplement, plan on taking 1500 mg daily.

Vitamin K2 helps with calcium absorption, which strengthens bones and nerve function. Food sources: the Japanese dish natto, grass-fed butter, Gouda, Edam, and Brie cheeses, grass-fed meat, pasture-raised eggs, sauerkraut, and yogurt/kefir.

Magnesium and calcium are essential minerals that many of us are deficient in. Magnesium helps with muscle function (tightness causes jaw pain). Food sources include leafy greens, dark chocolate, avocados, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and figs. Calcium helps with bones and nerve signaling. Food sources: sardines (with bones), yogurt or dairy kefir, raw milk, and cheese.

Omega 3s have been shown to ease pain and inflammation as effectively as ibuprofen. Food sources: wild salmon and other fish/seafood like mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, and oysters, seaweed, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds.

Do you notice some foods appearing over and over? Wild salmon, pasture-raised eggs, yogurt/kefir, sardines with bones, leafy greens, and cruciferous veggies are particularly nutrient-dense foods that you can incorporate one or more of at every meal.

As always, get the best quality food you can find and afford: grass-fed/grass-finished meat, pasture-raised eggs, wild-caught fish, organic fruits and vegetables, hormone-free organic dairy…