Considering it affects between 65% and 85% of people in their lifetime, it is surprising how little is known about temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. Problems in the jaw joint cause severe discomfort and can be very problematic for dentists to treat. Often, it is recommended that sufferers use a bite splint to stop them grinding and clenching teeth at night. These can be very expensive to have made, and patients frequently are simply unable to sleep while wearing them, rendering them useless. They also do not address other root causes of the issue.
Recently, however, dentists have begun to refer more TMJ patients to Registered Massage Therapists (RMTs), as the benefits of certain massage modalities in relieving TMJ become more apparent. Massage therapy is a natural, holistic approach to TMJ treatment that addresses the root cause of the issue, helping patients regain full movement and strength in the joint and relieving pain and discomfort.
The temporomandibular joint is a hinge joint that connects the jaw bone to the skull. It needs to be flexible in order to allow your jaw to move up and down and side to side, but as a result it is also quite fragile. TMJ dysfunctions, which occur when the joint becomes dislodged, can happen due to grinding of teeth while sleeping, tightening of face and jaw muscles due to stress, arthritis, postural dysfunction, or from accidents such as whiplash.
Students at massage therapy college learn how this affects the day-to-day function of the joint, resulting in pain and tenderness in the face, clicking and popping sounds when patients attempt to speak or chew, and locking of the jaw. The level of discomfort caused varies with different patients, and can range from extreme pain to none at all.
In addition to affecting the area around the joint, TMJ can cause a ripple effect of problems in other upper body muscles and joints. Due to the strain they are putting on their jaw area, a TMJ sufferer may also experience:
A practitioner with a massage therapist diploma is trained to treat TMJ sufferers by reducing tension in the masticatory muscles and the fascia around the jaw area, usually focusing on specific trigger points. They may also use massage to reduce stress and anxiety issues, which may be contributing to the problem. As a result, the massage therapy modalities that can be beneficial to TMJ patients are numerous, and include:
It is important that massage therapist program students keep in mind the importance of advising TMJ patients on effective self-care. While massage therapy can have significant benefits, patients must also work to eliminate habits that keep TMJ persisting. They need to be aware of their jaw movements as they go about their daily routines, keeping their teeth slightly apart whenever possible and avoiding extreme jaw movements. RMTs may also prescribe exercises patients can do at home to aid recovery.
Interested in finding out more about the applications of massage therapy? Visit OVCMT for more information.