Stubborn TMJ Pain? Try Trigger Point Massage and Jaw Exercises
Stress has been causing you to clench your jaw all day (and night). Now you can’t escape the result of that bad behavior — pain. But you may find relief for TMJ pain by applying pressure and a few simple exercises.
It’s been a jaw-clenching, teeth-grinding kind of week. (When isn’t it that kind of week?) And now, you have excruciating jaw pain. Ibuprofen? Might as well put a bandage on your jaw for all the help it’s doing.
Difficulty opening or closing the mouth (hence the term, “lockjaw”).
There are different causes of temporomandibular disorders (TMD), including arthritis or a jaw injury. But if TMD is related to tightness and imbalance in the TMJ muscles because of clenching, a professional jaw massage might be what the doctor ordered.
“I’ve found manipulation by a professional, plus jaw exercises, to be highly effective,” says chiropractor Andrew Bang, DC. “When painkillers and bite guards don’t cut it, these types of manual therapy are a good next step.”
TMJ trigger point massage
Trigger points are hyper-tensed muscles (aka muscle knots) that cause jaw aches and pains. “When it comes to TMD, we can blame the pain on the masseter muscle, which covers the jaw over your teeth,” says Dr. Bang.
“The masseter muscle is used for chewing and jaw clenching. Muscle overuse from teeth grinding and jaw clenching causes the muscles to become tense, inflamed and very painful.”
But the magic of massage or manual therapy may mend those muscles. It’s best to find a provider who has a comprehensive understanding of the TMJ musculature, such as a:
When the jaw muscles are overly tight or imbalanced, manual therapy works well to help restore normal muscle tone and balance between the TMJ muscles.
The therapist starts by gently touching the muscle to relax it. Next, they firmly press a thumb or finger into the tissue to identify and apply intense pressure to any trigger points. “The kneading helps to unravel the ropey muscle fibers and bring relief,” says Dr. Bang.
To keep the jaw muscles smooth and supple, you can also perform simple jaw exercises at home. Dr. Bang recommends these exercises to stretch, strengthen and relax the jaw muscles:
Exercise #1: Jaw relaxation
How to: While touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth behind the upper front teeth, open and close your mouth. Repeat.
Variation: Place a finger in front of the ear on the TMJ, then use your finger on your chin to open and close the jaw partially or fully.