image of African American woman examining her jaw
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It may seem like a typical part of life when you have a headaches or neck pain.

You might notice a clicking sound when you chew or you might not be able to open your mouth as wide.

These are tell-tale signs of TMJ dysfunction (TMJD).

The lower jaw is connected to the skull by the temporomandibular joint. The muscles of the temporomandibular joint. The neck, shoulders, face, and teeth can be affected by malalignment.

According to one study, TMJD affects 20 to 40% of the adult population. But studies have found massage to be extremely helpful in managing TMJ pain and TMJD symptoms.

Registered massage therapist Hannah Etlin-Stein MSc, RMT in Toronto, Canada has treated many clients diagnosed with TMJD within her practice. She incorporates TMJ work into treatment plans along with teaching her clients self-massage and breathing techniques to continue on their own.

Learn more about tmj massage and self-massage techniques to help manage symptoms.

2022 research outlines the following as possible symptoms of TMJD:

  • Muscular pain when chewing.
  • Limits when opening the mouth are restricted.
  • The jaw is cracking.
  • There are dental issues.
  • There is pain in the neck, shoulders, and head.
  • frequent headaches
  • There is pain and tender tissue at the joint.
  • There are things that can happen in the ears.
  • dizziness

Research from 2021 concludes that conservative manual techniques of physical therapy, including massage, are highly beneficial in relieving TMJD management. There were significant improvements in pain relief and maximal mouth opening.

The jaws do not exist in a vacuum, so it is essential to address other areas in the body that could be contributing to tmz. This includes work on the spine, shoulders, and pelvis.

This is why massaging trigger points can bring relief.

Trigger points are places on the body that feel sore and tender. It can include pain, twitching, or itching.

The masseter muscle — a muscle of the jaw located above and below the cheekbone — can have trigger points related to TMJD. Massaging the masseter trigger points can relieve headaches, ear aches, and toothaches.

Some muscles of the neck, such as the suboccipital muscle group (under the back of the skull) and the sternocleidomastoid (those two thick bands of muscles on the front of the neck) may hold TMJ trigger points.

The temporal muscles at the sides of your face, just in front of the ears (think of your temples, where you’d naturally massage if you had a headache) can hold trigger points.

Massaging the upper trapezius, a large band of muscles spanning the neck, upper back, and shoulders can also relieve pressure on the TMJ.

Self-massage can be done using your own hands or specially designed tools. Three types of massage techniques you may use for TMJ are kneading, friction, and stretching.

Kneading is lifting, rolling, and wringing out a muscle between your fingers.

The pads of the fingers or thumbs are used forction massage. It uses gentle to moderate pressure as you rub the area with your fingers.

The stretching technique is the moving of a muscle by spreading it out and using your fingers, hands, or palms.

“Self-massage is wonderful and easy to use, but it can’t compare to a professional treatment or the act of letting go while the work is being done.”

Professional massage therapists can work out of a clinic, studio or their own practice.

Etlin-Stein adds “Many of my clients don’t even realize that registered massage therapists (RMT)s are able to help with TMJ complaints, or that doing intra-oral work is part of our scope of practice. A portion of our training is designated to both assessment and treatment of TMJ dysfunction.”

She says that the relationship is most important due to the vulnerability of temporomandibular joint disorders.

It is recommended to ask a massage therapist about their credentials, experience, and knowledge of temporomandibular joint disorders. This type of massage work is not offered in all states.

A referral from a doctor could be rewarding.

You can try some of the tms self-massage exercises here.

Before starting a new exercise or self-massage routine, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional.

It is beneficial to connect with your breath in order to relax.

Since the start of the Pandemic, more clients have been coming in with temporomandibular joint issues, according to Etlin-Stein. The correlation between stress and tension is well known.

She says “As an RMT, we now understand that many of the benefits of massage therapy are mediated through the nervous system. Teaching relaxation skills can be an effective therapy for TMJ pain and so diaphragmatic breathing is one of many techniques I will often teach clients living with TMJ pain.”

Taking a few minutes daily to focus on breathing in an effort to relax can have a tremendous effect on TMJD.

Masseter cross fiber massage

  1. Make a fist with both hands.
  2. Place the knuckles just under the cheekbone about an inch away from the ear.
  3. Make continuous semi-circles by pressing firmly and moving forward.
  4. Continue for 30 minutes.
  5. Take a break and repeat the motion with the mouth open.

Suboccipital friction massage

  1. Take the first two fingers of each hand and place them at the back of the skull.
  2. The point where the skull meets the neck is where you will feel two prominent bony protrusions.
  3. Rub the muscle with the fingers and then the fingers again.
  4. For 30–60 seconds, cover as much of the bone as you want.

The neck and masseter muscle are tense.

Masseter kneading massage

This is a technique that Etlin-Stein recommends to her clients.

  1. To find the masseter muscle again, you need to clench your jaw and place your hands on your cheeks. You will feel the strength.
  2. Relax the jaw.
  3. Pull that muscle away from the face and then side to side.
  4. Move up the muscle.

Quality of life can be affected by tmj problems.

Symptoms of tmd can spread beyond the jaw and cause headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and even affect the alignment of your teeth.

Working with a massage therapist has been proven to be effective in alleviating symptoms.

Self-massage is an accessible way of self-care and it places you in a position of self-awareness and involvement in your own treatment.

Get to work on finding relief.