A client came to me a couple of weeks ago for 90 minutes of “Whatever Works”. During the session, she learned that I offer TMJ* care sessions and asked a lot of questions about it. She had not known previously that a trained, skilled bodyworker could relieve the symptoms of TMJ disorder – jaw pain and tightness, clenching, grinding, popping, clicking, locking, etc.
I explained to her a bit about the anatomy of the jaw, my TMJ Care package, and the outcomes of my TMJ clients. Since others are likely unaware that trained massage therapists can offer TMJ relief, I’ll share that info here.
The key external jaw muscles are the masseter and temporalis, and the key internal muscles are the medial pterygoid and lateral pterygoid, which run vertically and horizontally, respectively. These muscles are paired, right and left. Any or all of these eight muscles can become contracted and develop trigger points that result in TMJ symptoms.
My TMJ Care sessions include work both outside and inside the mouth. The package I offer consists of a 90-minute first session that includes taking your history of jaw issues, gently testing jaw range of motion, and treatment. It’s followed by two 60-minute treatments.
I recommend these three sessions be scheduled about a week apart so your jaw muscles (the strongest in the body for their size) can soften and become more pliable and so that you can integrate these changes without reverting to its previous state. Generally we make progress in each session.
I also recommend a 45-60 minute follow-up session 4 to 6 weeks later if you are experiencing any lingering symptoms. This is not part of the package.
The TMJ Care package costs $250. If you scheduled each session separately, the cost would be $280, so you save $30 by buying a package. From experience, the package is enough to give significant and lasting relief for most people with TMJ issues. If you’re interested in a TMJ Care package, you can book your first 90-minute session online here. You pay for the package after the session.
The outcomes my TMJ clients have experienced include the following:
- Everyone has reported feeling more spaciousness around the jaw joint after the first session and an ease in symptoms.
- Everyone who has never had intra-oral TMJ work before agrees that it feels weird. I touch a place that never gets touched. I warn clients about this ahead of time and give them total control. If they want my finger out of their mouth, I take it out immediately. I watch and listen closely for signs of discomfort. I am aware that it can feel invasive and that it may bring up uncomfortable memories. (See link or quote below.) Plus, it’s physically sensitive. The difference is that the TMJ work is voluntary, and there’s a learning curve to allow it because it’s going to be helpful, similar to the first acupuncture treatment. I respect this. So far, all of my TMJ clients have been able to get through the initial weirdness. I provide choices of music and encourage belly breathing to help them relax, and I invite them to release anything else that is no longer needed along with the jaw tension. The table warmer is on, if desired, and they are snuggly under the sheets.
- Most of my TMJ clients have done three sessions and haven’t been back, and I presume they are satisfied with the results. Sometimes the jaw tightness is tied to neck and/or head issues that may come from birth or early stress or trauma, and in that case, a lengthier course of treatment is needed.
- One client did the three sessions, which held her jaw in good alignment for a year until she had lengthy dental work done. We did some more work together for relief.
- Another client did many sessions for long-standing chronic TMJ and neck issues, finally coming to an understanding that her jaw tension was connected to an unsatisfactory childhood relationship with a parent. (Other clients have said their TMJ issues began during times of emotional duress.) She was able to allow emotional as well as physical healing to take place during our most recent TMJ session.
It appears to me that there can be a link between TMJ issues and previous experience of not being able to get one’s needs met. Being unable to express to a significant person that their love doesn’t feel like love can show up as jaw symptoms for years afterward.
It is not required to tell your story to receive treatment, although during treatment, often clients gain psychological insight into the origins of their jaw issues. I want to thank those clients who have shared their stories with me. The body and mind and emotions (and spirit, of course) are inextricably linked. It is entirely possible to let go of the past’s lingering dysfunction and step into the present without jaw pain and with new insight about communicating to get one’s needs met.
I also want to note here that some recent research ties bruxism (teeth grinding) during sleep with sleep apnea, suggesting that grinding is the body’s attempt to open the airway during sleep. I have seen some clients whose lives have been pretty happy who have TMJ issues.
My most recent TMJ client, mentioned at the beginning of this post, decided to get a TMJ Care package. After our first session, she sent me a link to her anonymous blog post about the session, TMJ Massage Session Relates to Connection and Abuse. I’ve included a few quotes below.
The times that other humans utilized my interest or trust to their desire, the times when I didn’t have a choice because I didn’t know how to decipher options, how to logically assess emotional risk… these thoughts surfaced as she put her finger in my mouth. The emotional level of the massage involved my personal history with abuse. It offered its perceptions and cautions. I quelled the anxiety with deep breaths, and at one point I actually fell asleep which I didn’t think was possible to do in that situation. So the masseuse offers this safe and professional environment in which she performs actions similar yet very different to others I’ve experienced…
All of this combines to create a safe space for my spiritual level to evolve. How does free blood flow around the jaw contribute to my sense of place in existence? I feel the increased blood flow as a sense of relaxation in my jaw, and my head feels more like it’s floating and less like it’s tight. This creates a buttery space for thoughts, if you will…
All of this — the muscles and bones at the physical level, the emotions at my human level, the spiritual practice that comes from attempts to trust someone to provide assistance — all of it combines in purpose. When I think of purpose and combination, I’m existing in the spiritual realm. When our lives have meaning and we rest in our bodies, we are one with nature and its undulations. All of this — the muscles and bones at the physical level, the emotions at my human level, the spiritual practice that comes from attempts to trust someone to provide assistance — all of it combines in purpose. When I think of purpose and combination, I’m existing in the spiritual realm. When our lives have meaning and we rest in our bodies, we are one with nature and its undulations.
Anonymous, you know who you are. Thank you for trusting me and for writing so beautifully about your experience.
I can’t publish this post without gratefully acknowledging Ryan Hallford of the Craniosacral Resource Center in Southlake, Texas, for his craniosacral and TMJ work training.
*Note: TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint. TMD refers to Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, and sometimes it’s called TMJD. Confusing much? In layman’s language, people often say TMJ for the joint and the disorder, and I tend to use that in speech.