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  • Writer's pictureTania Cucciniello

A Covid-Era Circumstance: Helping Jaw Pain with Massage.

Common symptoms and causes associated with TMJ disorders

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a hinge joint made up of the temporal bone and mandible of the cranium. The muscles involved with opening and closing of the TMJ include the temporalis muscles, the masseter muscles and the pterygoid muscles, to name a few. When the TMJ is in dis-order, common symptoms include pain or tenderness of the muscles involved, difficulty or sensitivity chewing, pain or sensitivity in or around the ear, radiating facial pain, clicking or cracking in the jaw while talking, chewing or yawning.

There can be a number of causes associated to pain and malfunction of the TMJ. Chronic grinding or clenching of the teeth is a very popular TMJ malfunction. This stresses the connective tissues and nerve endings which can lead to other pain in and around the area. Diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis may also be a cause. The joint's cartilage is damaged through inflammation and wear and tear... essentially a consequence of grinding. A jaw injury or trauma can also cause TMJ pain, especially if the joint is damaged by impact or whiplash. Cervical slipped discs or herniations can impinge the cervical nerves thus inhibiting signals to the TMJ. This can lead to malfunction of the muscles that control jaw movement.

The surprising new cause of TMJ pain today is due to wearing masks! Medical workers say they have been experiencing this for a long time, naturally; but my findings have shown that an increase in the number of people experiencing TMJ pain has occurred due to the fact that the vast population are now wearing masks every day. Especially essential workers who wear it for a minimum of 7 hours a day. The elastic around the ear compresses the temporomandibular joint, notably when masks are too small or worn incorrectly. Look at the proximity of the ear canal to the where the jaw hinges in this photo.

Wearing a mask the correct way already creates pressure in and around the ear, which is why most people will lower the mask or move the mask, expecting relief. However, wearing the mask incorrectly provides no relief for the jaw as it further compresses the joint. Continue reading to see my recommendations for proper TMJ relief.

Other common pathologies that can be helped through the TMJ

Tinnitus: The TMJ is located on the lateral aspect of the face and anterior to the ear. Therefore, working on the TMJ can have considerable effects on other pathologies such as tinnitus. Tinnitus symptoms include a small "phantom" noise or ringing in the inner ear and a loss of hearing usually specific to one side. Being anatomically close to the ear, the TMJ shares muscles and nerves that connect to the middle ear and ear drum, so treating the TMJ can also alleviate tinnitus symptoms.

Migraines: Working on the TMJ can also help those who suffer from migraines. Migraines create a moderate to severe pain at the front, back, or sides of the head. They may lead to nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty looking at light or hearing loud noises. The TMJ is the hinge that connects your jaw to your skull and so using massage techniques to stretch out tight jaw muscles along with gentle elongations of the cervical spine can alleviate a headache or migraine.

ENT: Ear-nose-throat symptoms such as a sore throat, blocked or painful sinuses and radiating facial pain can all be caused by TMJ dys-fucntions. Through massage of the TMJ, any pinched nerves or inflammation between the related areas can be alleviated, decreasing the amount of ENT symptoms.

How Massage Therapy can help these symptoms and causes

Massage therapy can provide great relief for those suffering from TMJ dis-orders. Massages can relax the tense jaw muscles and create space between the joints which increases the synovial fluid. How do we relax tense jaw muscles? Massage techniques such as pressure points and fascia-therapy can help. The pressure points help decrease hyper-irritable tissues and fascia-therapy releases the different layers of the fascia, reduces adhesion and reduces inflammation. Now how do we create space between the joints? Mobilizations, such as traction of the cervical spine, temporomandibular gliding, clavicular gliding, or humeral head mobilizations can all give space and functionality back to the area. These maneuvers realign structures which can help people experience a significant decrease in their symptoms.

My recommendations for TMJ relief

  • Have a mint instead of chewing gum to reduce jaw activity.

  • Hot or cold compresses- depending on whether you have pain or inflammation.

  • Wear a night guard to prevent clenching the jaw while sleeping.

  • Stretches and exercises of the jaw such as: partial to full openings of the jaw= up & down; chin tucks= flexion & extension of the neck; cervical rotations= left & right; jaw gliding= left & right.

  • Finally, if you received a massage to help ease the area, be sure to schedule a follow-up appointment within a selected time frame decided by the massage therapist.

For more information on TMJ massage visit my Services page.

If you have any questions about dental pain and sensitivity, please contact my colleagues at Tran-Viet Dental Clinic.

A professional and super-friendly staff who will give you their undivided attention while under their care.


(Image credit: kjpargeter / Freepik)

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