January 23, 2014

Massage Therapy and Jaw Pain

I suffer from jaw pain. Clenching, clicking, some grinding and the occasional headache. While earning my degree in massage therapy at The Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences in NYC, I was definitely a total nerd when the TMJD (temporomandibular joint disorders) classes began. I knew I would be learning the skills to help fellow sufferers as well as explore some self-care to help myself! I was also trained in intra-oral massage techniques which have been shown to bring a vast improvement in TMJD symptoms!

Let's start with some of the basics. What is TMJD?

"Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) occur as a result of problems with the jaw, jaw joint and surrounding facial muscles that control chewing and moving the jaw." 

What are SOME of the symptoms?
  • Pain or tenderness in the face, jaw joint area, neck and shoulders, and in or around the ear when you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide
  • Limited ability to open the mouth very wide
  • Jaws that get "stuck" or "lock" in the open- or closed-mouth position
  • Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth (which may or may not be accompanied by pain) or chewing
  • A tired feeling in the face
  • Difficulty chewing or a sudden uncomfortable bite – as if the upper and  lower teeth are not fitting together properly
  • Swelling on the side of the face
  • May occur on one or both sides of the face
  • Other common symptoms include toothaches, headaches, neck aches, dizziness, earaches, hearing problems, upper shoulder pain, and ringing in the ears (tinnitis).

So what causes it? Many things. But the most common are:
  • Arthritis
  • Improper bite (how teeth fit together)
  • Jaw dislocation or injury and
  • Stress! 

"Stress is thought to be a factor in TMD. Even strenuous physical tasks, such as lifting a heavy object or stressful situations, can aggravate TMD by causing overuse of jaw muscles, specifically clenching or grinding teeth (also known as bruxism)."

So what can expect from a TMJD Focused session at Mending Hands?

First - we'll talk about your pain! I'll want to know when it started and if you know why is started (injury, dental or muscular issues, etc). I'll ask you if there is anything you are doing that makes the pain better or worse. We'll talk about any self - care you are employing (night guards, stretches).  It will also be helpful to be informed about your specific symptoms - clicking, locking, headaches, tenderness to the touch and anything else that you are experiencing surrounding this condition.

Next - I'll get to work! It has been my experience working with many people who suffer from TMJD, that relief may come from treating the entire upper body. You have many muscles in the shoulders, neck and back that attach up into the head. Unnecessary tensions here can contribute to tension and pain in the jaw and head. I will treat all aspects of the neck, with special attention to the anterior muscles which tend to tighten, and in some cases shorten, due to certain posture habits. I will address your entire head, scalp and jaw. Believe it or not, many of your "chewing" muscles go all the way up the sides of your head! Making scalp work imperative when looking at the whole picture. If needed, I can work the jaw muscles intra-orally as well. Full disclosure - some of these techniques can be intense. It is absolutely normal to "warm up" to some of these deeper techniques and I will check in with you every step of the way!

Finally - We'll discuss a treatment plan. We can figure out how often massage will be appropriate for relief and maintenance. I'm also a big believer in my clients feeling better in-between sessions, so we can talk about some ways you can help yourself!

I'm extremely passionate about what I do. I'm also committed to trying to find individual ways to make my clients feel better. If you have any more questions or would like to book a session, you can email me at melissa@mendinghands.com.

Image: Jean Galbert Salvage, c.1812

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