Pain in your temporomandibular joint is uncomfortable; sometimes it’s just an occasional problem, but for some people it’s a chronic issue. Thankfully, using massage can be an effective part of an overall treatment plan to relieve pain and reduce discomfort.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the jaw to the skull; disorders involving this joint result from inflamed and painful muscles around the jaw. It’s not known exactly what causes the problem, but tooth grinding, an imperfect bite, stress fractures, and tooth clenching are thought to contribute. The symptoms may be occasional or chronic, and often include:
- Pain in the jaw, face, or around the ears
- Migraine-like headaches
- Pressure and pain behind the eyes
- A popping or clicking noise when opening or closing your mouth
- Jaw that locks or goes out of place
- Facial swelling
- Jaw muscle tenderness
If you experience these symptoms, talk to your dentist about the problem. They can help determine the cause and recommend appropriate treatment options based on your specific situation.
Three Types of Massage to Reduce Pain
Massaging your jaw muscles can help relieve the pain caused by TMJ disorders. There are three basic methods of performing this therapy: kneading, friction, and stretching. Learning to perform these techniques on yourself is a quick and easy way to help reduce pain around your jaw.
The kneading technique involves providing constant, circular motion to the jaw muscles and joints. Begin by locating the masseter muscles which are just below the cheekbones and behind the molars. From the corners of your mouth, work your fingers toward your ears until you reach a flat plane of bone; you should be able to feel the notch of the cheekbone when you are about an inch from your ear, and the flat plane is right below the notch. Your thumb or a couple fingers should fit nicely in this spot, allowing you to apply gentle pressure in a circular motion.
The circular pressure warms up the muscles and stimulates lymph function, which helps remove irritating materials and flush out waste. Continue gently massaging the area until you experience some pain relief. Try different methods to discover what helps you the most; for example, using your entire hand instead of a couple fingers can also be effective.
The friction technique focuses on the muscles attached to your mandible, or lower jaw, and provides constant pressure. The muscles are located in the lower portion of your jaw, below the masseter, and along the jaw line. Use your index finger to touch your mandible and apply constant gentle pressure to the muscles. Everyone responds to this kind of pressure differently, so take some time to find the area and amount of pressure that works best for you to relieve jaw pain.
The stretching technique goes a bit further in the process of pain relief, and is a way to exercise the muscles that contribute to joint soreness. The technique can be a bit tricky to perform because it requires the use of two thumbs on one side of your face; if this is difficult for you, then ask a partner to help you. Place two thumbs just above the muscles attached to your mandible and parallel to the jaw line. Apply gentle pressure to the muscles as you slowly drag your thumbs down, stretching the muscles away from the upper jaw.
Another stretching technique involves placing two fingers on the masseter muscle and two fingers, from your other hand, on your mandible. Slowly press your fingers together until they are in the space between the masseter and the muscles of your mandible. Hold for a few seconds, then relax.
Additional Methods for Relieving Jaw Pain
A combination of methods is usually the best approach for handling temporomandibular joint disorders. In addition to massaging the area, you can also try the following methods for reducing pain:
- Use a night guard – A night guard should be fitted by your dentist and is a helpful way to reduce pain and the harmful effects of night time tooth grinding and clenching.
- Medication – Muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory drugs, and over-the-counter pain-relievers can help reduce muscle spasms and pain.
- Moist heat – Application of moist heat can help the muscles relax and reduces pain and spasms.
- Relax – Relaxation techniques can help you learn to control the muscle tension in your jaw.
TMJ disorders cause pain and soreness around the jaw, but treatment methods, including massage, help reduce pain and allow you to be comfortable again.
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