What to know when seeking manual therapy for jaw tension and pain

Update, September 17, 2020: I stopped doing intraoral manual therapy in March 2020 due to COVID. I’m resuming my in-person bodywork practice in Austin, Texas, one day a week on Tuesdays. I’m offering TMJ Relief sessions but not working in people’s mouths until COVID no longer poses a threat.

I’ve spent a lot of time and effort pivoting to teaching online. It’s risky to work in people’s mouths, and yet the need is even greater. The stresses of the pandemic and the recession (and all the related adjustments) have people clenching and grinding even more.

I’m offering a course, Self-Care for Jaw Pain, on Zoom. The next series of classes are slated for February 2021.

Check out my website, maryannreynolds.com. If understanding causes and finding remedies for your jaw pain appeals to you, please sign up for my class. Space is limited.

So far, since I began doing intraoral work for jaw issues in 2013, I’ve had several clients come in for TMJ relief sessions who had previously seen multiple practitioners who worked inside their mouths to try to relieve their TMJ symptoms.

They had seen chiropractors, chiropractic neurologists, Rolfers, dentists trained by the Las Vegas Institute (LVI), and/or other massage therapists.

These clients told me, “No one has ever touched me there,” after I worked on their lateral pterygoids.

These are small, sensitive, hard to access muscles, and they may be key muscles to soften to release jaw tension. It takes patience to reach them and gently influence them to soften and lengthen.

You can see in the image below that there are two heads to the lateral pterygoid muscle. The superior head attaches to the articulate disc between the mandibular fossa of the temporal bone and the condole of the mandible. Tension in this superior head pulling the disc anteriorly may create clicking or popping sounds on opening and/or closing the jaw.

It is important to address this early on to prevent irreparable damage. Even when there is damage to the disc or the tissue behind the joint, intraoral manual therapy can relieve tension.

It’s not that the other jaw muscles don’t contribute. The medial pterygoids are also major internal pain-causing culprits, and the external jaw muscles — the masseters and temporalises — also play important roles in jaw tension and pain (they can have trigger points and taut bands within the muscle, and also be in a long-term state of contraction due to clenching and grinding).

I’ve learned through trial and error that one 75-minute session provides relief (sometimes tremendous relief, as in experiencing a pain-free and spacious feeling around the TMJs), but it will probably not last.

That’s often the issue with bodywork: the soft tissues tend to revert toward their previous tension until we change that muscle tension pattern through timely repetition.

For longer-lasting relief, 5 sessions in 4-6 weeks with support for habit change and self-care homework can retrain the jaw muscles to lengthen and relax.

If jaw tension or pain resulting from jaw tension is your major complaint, and you’d like a sense of spaciousness in your TMJs (if you can even imagine how great that would feel), please seek a practitioner that works intraorally on the pterygoid muscles.

Click here to book a free 30-minute consultation. (My practice is in Austin, Texas, but we can meet on Zoom.)

Things that distinguish my work:

  • I work as gently as possible. Sometimes people feel therapeutic pain, as in “this hurts a little but it’s exactly what I need to relieve this tension”.
  • I never make any sudden moves.
  • My sessions start with full body alignment and end with deeply relaxing craniosacral therapy to help your system integrate the changes.
  • My referral partners include dentists, chiropractors, doctors, a Rolfer, acupuncturists, craniosacral therapists, Ayurveda practitioner, Somatic Experiencing practitioner, and many massage therapists.

I started a Facebook group, Word of Mouth: Resources for Jaw Pain/Dysfunction, for people who want to work on their jaw issues. You can ask questions and learn more there.

I hope this information helps you ask informed questions when choosing a practitioner to relieve your jaw tension and pain. 

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