Massage therapy helps people to recover from a variety of injuries. Massage therapy is often used in the scope of pain management. People from all walks of life and situations can benefit from this type of therapy. Athletes, accident victims, cancer patients, and people who have been injured at work are just some of those who can and have received massage therapy treatment and experienced its benefits.
Massage therapy can also help clients with TMJ. The following will discuss what TMJ is, what causes it, and how mouth massage can help with this condition.
TMJ- Definition and Symptoms
TMJ stands for temporomadibular joint disorder or dysfunction. The temporomadibular joint is the joint at which the lower jaw and head are connected. There are muscles that attach the bone to the head, and they move, allowing the jaw to move up and down. This joint has a hinge and slide motion to it.
The most common symptoms are: tenderness or pain in or around the jaw and ear where the joint is, difficulty or pain while chewing, headaches, burning sensation in the facial area, blurry vision, locking of the jaw, dislocation of the jaw, pain and ringing or popping sounds in the ear, and even pain in the neck and shoulders.
Causes of TMJ
Many people, more women than men, experience TMJ. Some have clear-cut causes while others do not. Some of the factors that are believed to be linked to TMJ are: stress, arthritis, erosion of the shock-absorbing disk in between the mandible and temporal bone, misaligned teeth which can contribute to a misaligned jaw, excessive gum chewing, bruxism (teeth grinding), direct injury or trauma to the jaw.
Keep in mind that only some of these are definite known causes, such as direct trauma to the jaw and arthritis. The others are believed to be causes or at least contributing factors. The fact is, many doctors aren’t really sure as to the exact causes, nor are they certain why the number of women who get TMJ disorders is so much higher than men.
One theory as to why more women than men are susceptible to TMJ dysfunction is something to do with the female chromosome or hormones. Unfortunately, research thus far has been unable to pinpoint the exact reason for women’s greater risk of suffering from TMJ.
Mouth Massage as a Treatment of TMJ Dysfunction
Mouth massage, or intraoral massage as it’s commonly called, is a procedure performed by a massage therapist for clients with TMJ. It is usually administered by placing gloves on the hand and opening the patient’s mouth, massaging the muscles inside the mouth to relieve the pain from TMJ.
For some people, this type of treatment is quite painful while others do not experience additional discomfort from having this treatment done. The lateral and medial pterygoids are manipulated inside the mouth, being compressed in order to release tension in the muscles and alleviate trigger points (certain points in the mouth which trigger the pain associated with TMJ, varies by patient).
Another technique is muscle stripping, where the intraoral muscles are stroked gently or roughly. This is the part that can become quite painful. However, these techniques have been shown to provide great benefit in patients with TMJ dysfunction.
Massage therapy may also be done externally. One manipulation is called myofascial release, where the muscles in the neck and the pectoralis major are manipulated. This serves to release tension and pressure on the jaw, since the muscles in the jaw are connected to the neck and down to the pectoral area. This myofascial release technique can also help correct shoulder posture. As previously stated, bad posturing can lead to TMJ pain.
These techniques of muscle stripping, kneading, and trigger point releasing can help relieve or even cure the pain associated with TMJ disorders. They can also increase blood flow to the muscles and relieve stress by releasing endorphins. In most cases, the therapist will advise the client on exercises and massage techniques they can do at home to further relieve the pain and reduce the possibility of being affected by TMJ disorder again.
Massage therapy for TMJ disorders, both intraoral and externally, is known as a conservative treatment method. The therapy sessions performed by the massage therapist, coupled with home exercises, is just one non-invasive treatment method available.
This is preferable to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or dental appliances such as stabilizing splints. The reason that massage therapy is considered preferable by many over other methods is because pain relief or alignment correction is temporary.
Massage treatment sessions are generally around 45 minutes to an hour in duration. The home exercises performed by the patient can vary in duration. Treatment exercises and duration will likely vary depending on the individual case of the client and the severity of the TMJ dysfunction. It is believed that over time, massage therapy as a treatment for TMJ disorders can cure a person’s TMJ if not drastically reduce incidents and severity of pain.
Who Needs Oral Massage Most?
Again, women are far more susceptible to TMJ dysfunction than men, although they are not the only ones with high risk factors. People who chew gum excessively are believed to be prone to TMJ disorders. Also, people who have poor posture, high stress from a job or other factors, people with a tendency to develop arthritis or already have arthritis, accident victims or other people who have a high risk of jaw injuries, people with orthodontic issues such as misaligned teeth, and others with any of the conditions listed under the causes or risks of TMJ dysfunction will likely need oral massage therapy.
It is not guaranteed that this method will work, but there is nothing to be lost from trying it, especially since it is non-invasive and no drugs are used in the treatment. Should oral massage therapy prove ineffective for a client, other methods may be necessary, up to and possibly including surgery. Surgery is of course a last resort, and often unnecessary as oral massage therapy has proven to be effective in most cases.