Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ/TMD)
Pain in your temporomandibular joint – where the lower jaw connects to the head – can be excruciating in and of itself, but a misalignment of the joint can also lead to tension and pain throughout the face, head, neck, and shoulders, not to mention expensive dental work resulting from uneven use of the teeth.
Perhaps the most obvious of our treatments for TMJ disorders, massage therapy can be highly effective at relaxing the tense muscles in the head, face, neck, and shoulders that are causing distress. Depending on the severity of the tension or misalignment, and the comfort level of the patient, a variety of techniques can be used, ranging from extremely light lymphatic massage to somewhat stronger external and internal manipulation of the jaw muscles.
Both traditional Chinese and orthopaedic styles of acupuncture can be effective in treating TMJ disorders by helping to release muscle spasms and tension, decreasing inflammation (and the resulting swelling and pain), and engaging the parasympathetic nervous system (known as the ‘rest and digest’ response, this branch of the nervous system must be active for healing and deep relaxation to occur).
Reflexology is a form of touch therapy that stimulates deep circulation and relaxation by applying gentle pressure to specific points on the feet, hands, and head. Patients suffering from TMJ who are too sensitive for traditional massage work often find reflexology an excellent alternative. In addition to gently stimulating acupressure points around the ears and jaw, by working specific points on the feet and/or hands, reflexology can provide relief from TMJ symptoms without directly touching the face.
Although counselling or psychotherapy may at first seem out of place on this list, it can be an incredibly valuable tool in helping to resolve long term or chronic TMJ. Many people may be familiar with feeling more tense than normal when undergoing periods of stress: for some, an intense or long-standing emotional stressor can cause unconscious teeth grinding or jaw clenching. Unpacking and resolving the underlying emotional disruption(s) can allow tense and guarded muscles to relax, letting the jaw settle back into an appropriate alignment. This in itself can alleviate many TMJ symptoms, as well as increasing the efficacy of other treatments such as massage, acupuncture, and reflexology.
This is the first in a series of articles exploring how a single condition or complaint can be addressed by the many different therapies and modalities that we offer at Varsity Natural Health Center. These therapies can work together to address the condition as a whole, or be used individually to help with specific aspects of it.