Treating Jaw Pain Holistically
Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder consists of tension throughout the jaw joint region and accompanying muscles. It can manifest as jaw pain, teeth grinding, headaches, earaches, limited range of motion (lock jaw), inflammation, neck pain, muscle spasms and can even cause changes in facial structure from muscle development. While teeth grinding occurs mostly during sleep, jaw clenching can happen subconsciously throughout the day, adding to the above symptoms.
TMJ disorder consists of the 4 muscles of mastication/chewing.
Masseter | Runs from the TMJ, located about an inch in front of the ear to the lower jaw. The masseter is the strongest muscle in the body and is responsible for lifting the jaw and closing the mouth. An over development of this muscle can cause the appearance of an overly square jaw.
Temporalis | The temporalis muscle covers the side of the head in front, over the temples and above and behind the ear to the temporal mandibular joint region in front of the ears. Responsible for lifting the jaw and closing the mouth.
Pyterygoids | Located deep within the face, on the inner surface of the mandible. The lateral pyterygoids opens the jaw and the medial pyterygoids elevates and moves jaw forward.
Becoming familiar with these muscles will help to understand the mechanisms that lead to the pain caused by jaw tension. Start by opening and closing mouth while using fingers to feel around the TMJ area, about an inch in front of the ears, you will feel the skin divot as the mouth opens and closes. From there, the masseter can be easily found by placing fingers on lower, most square part of jaw and clenching. The temporalis can be felt by placing hands on the temples and clenching. The pyterygoids are found inside the mouth, back near molars where jaw opens and closes and can feel like thick rubberbands.
Headaches from TMJ disorder tend to be dull, achy and run right up the side of the head. This can also induce tightness throughout the entire scalp. Relaxing the 2 main players of a tense jaw, masseter and temporalis, will certainly bring relief. It helps tremendously to stay conscious of these muscles in order to prevent the pain to start with and I'm sharing the following tips below to do just that.
1. Manage stress. Absolutely easier said then done. Teeth grinding and jaw clenching are a manifestation of stress and tension. Everyday life isn't going anywhere, there will always be stressors we cannot prevent but balancing through these times is totally up to us. Be it mediation, exercise, yoga, the key is utilizing these tools to manage and prevent the stress from manifesting as physical pain to begin with.
2. Stay conscious of your jaw. When I started paying more attention during the day, I realized how much I was subconsciously clenching my jaw. Do body scans often and check to see where your jaw is. You may not even be aware that you are clenching your jaw throughout the day. Check in with your jaw often and work to keep it relaxed. Keep teeth loosely apart and tongue resting on roof of mouth, lightly touching 2 front teeth. With tongue touching the 2 front teeth, it is impossible to clench your jaw. This has been a major help for me. I scan at my computer, while I'm working on clients, driving, before I fall asleep and basically anytime I think about it.
3. Self massage. Palpate the muscles as listed above and workout tension. You can do these techniques on a clean face with a slip of oil and they are especially relaxing before bed. Open, close and move jaw side to side with slow stretching movements to begin. From there, start at the bottom of the jaw on masseter and work up the muscle to joint area in front of ears. Massage the joint region, up to the temples, back down to the bottom of the jaw. Focus on the jaw area while opening and closing mouth. You can also add in moist heat in combination with nightly massage to help relax and soothe the area before bed.
4. Gua sha massage tools can help relieve muscle tension throughout the jaw area and are easy to use. Start from the inside area of where the cheek meets the nose and work outwards over the jaw, working out tension and concentrating on tender areas. Gua she is excellent for TMJ conditions as well as lymphatic drainage, sinus congestion and anti-aging. Shop your gua-tools here.
5. Avoid things like holding the phone between your head and neck, chewing gum and leaning on your chin. All of the above inevitably clench the jaw, contract the neck and cause tightness throughout the neck and jaw area.
6. Magnesium works to relieve contracted muscles. Calcium enters cells to create action, this is how muscles contract and become tense. Once this action has passed, magnesium pushes the calcium back out of the cells and everything relaxes. However, when there is a lack of magnesium, calcium remains in the cells and muscles remain tight and tense. This happens in our jaws and throughout our entire bodies. The relaxing and decompressing attributes of magnesium help tremendously for stress management, headaches, jaw pain, anxiety, constipation and charlie horses. Magnesium is such a vital nutrient. I recommend CALM magnesium powder that you can find here.
7. Oil pulling. Definitely not everyone's cup of tea but I cannot say enough good things about oil pulling. Extremely healthy for the mouth, gums and detoxifying for the whole body according to Ayurvedic Principles. While there isn't much scientific evidence to back up claims of oil pulling for TMJ conditions, it certainly has helped to alleviate tightness in my jaw. I do believe on an energetic level that the detoxifying element of oil pulling draws out physical and emotional toxins that can manifest as tension but again, those are my intuitive findings and feelings. On a basic level, oil pulling consists of mouthwashing for 20 min with coconut oil (or oil of choice). The action in general helps to open and increase circulation, inevitably releasing tightness throughout the jaw area.
8. Professional massage. Massage will help your body to relax as a whole and an advanced therapist will be knowledgeable in plenty of beneficial techniques we are unable to perform on ourselves. Also an excellent modality for stress management. Do scan and relax your jaw and body when you get on the table for any type of body work or facial treatments. The more you relax, the more open your mind and body become to healing.
9. Acupuncture, always my go to and first love of medicine. Acupuncture works to alleviate the painful attributes of TMJ disorders while also balancing our wellbeing as a whole. This helps us to manage and control the stress that may very well be causing the manifestation of tension to begin with. Acupressure, moxibustion, cupping and gua sha are all modalities that acupuncturists can also perform or combine together for TMJ treatment if needles are not your thing. I happen to enjoy needles and everything about acupuncture!
Acupuncture and massage in combination with the above techniques have worked to help keep me pain free from jaw pain and the accompanying headaches. I mention the acupuncture and professional massage last not because they are the least important but because if you can manage your at home modaliteies in order to help yourself, you are going to have much more successful and lifestyle changing results when you combine them with therapies such as acupuncture and massage. As with all holistic medicine, Acupuncturists and Therapists are there to assist you in healing yourself, the majority of the work is actually up to you.
If you are interested in working with me to learn more about your wellness, you can you can visit me for an in-studio treatment located in Miami or Tampa, Florida or work long-distance over skype with me. Contact here for all inquires. I look forward to connecting with you.