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

So far, in five years of practice, I’ve had two 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 two clients both told me, “No one has ever touched me there,” after I worked on their lateral pterygoids.

These are small, hard to access muscles, and in my opinion, they are most often the key muscles to address to release jaw tension.

anatomy of the jaw muscles

It’s not that the other jaw muscles don’t contribute. They do, and in roughly 10% of the TMD cases I’ve worked on so far, one of the medial pterygoids is “the problem child” creating the most pain and dysfunction in the jaws.

The external jaw muscles — the masseters and temporalises — also play a role in jaw tension but are never (that I’ve seen so far) the biggest contributors.

In other words, about 90% of the time when people have jaw pain from muscle tension, the lateral pterygoids are the main source.

It’s not that these other intra-oral practitioners have nothing to offer. Chiropractors, Rolfers, and massage therapists have definitely helped me, and I’m not familiar with the others. Also, some LVI-trained dentists do receive specific training in treating TMJ issues — and I’m sure they can help with more complex or advanced problems.

The only complaint I’ve heard about going to a physical therapist for TMJ relief is that they work aggressively, with little concern for patient comfort. I’m pretty sure that is because they are restricted by insurance companies to the amount of time allowed to address a given problem. If you can handle it, they probably will work on your lateral pterygoids.

You can always talk to them first about what to expect.

I don’t work with insurance, but even people living on a budget who are determined to get gentle, lasting TMJ relief have found a way to pay my reasonable rates.

I’ve learned through trial and error that one 75-minute session provides relief, but it may not be lasting. For longer-lasting relief, 5 sessions in 4 weeks with support for habit change and self-care help 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 on the lateral pterygoids.

Click here to book a free 30-minute consultation. (My practice is in Austin, Texas.)

Things that distinguish my work:

  • I work as gently as possible. 
  • I never make any sudden moves. 
  • My sessions start with full body alignment to get you relaxed and progress toward the intra-oral work near the end. 
  • My referral partners include dentists, chiropractors, doctors, and 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. 

Treating TMJ issues: a series of posts

I’ve been writing about TMJ pain and dysfunction on my Facebook business page and on my Austin, Texas, USA, private-practice website’s blog. Now I’m sharing an index of these posts here on my “big blog”.

If you have TMJ disorder and want to read any of those posts, here are the links.

I view TMJ issues as not just biomechanics, although it plays a role. This issue has social, emotional, historical, biological, cognitive, and spiritual aspects. I am very aware that some people, especially in the mainstream medical and dental fields, may believe it’s unnecessary or even laughable to provide information on so-called “woo-woo” or “fluffy” topics like essential oils, yoga, and the throat chakra for people who are suffering from jaw pain and dysfunction.

So let me share how I came to write this series of posts. Instead of just going to experts (and I have done that), I also asked women who suffer from this problem what helps, and they told me. And I believe them!

Since nine times more women than men experience severe, chronic TMJ issues, this is super valuable information to share.

I want the world to know that TMJ treatment is available beyond night guards, pain meds, and surgery, and there are so many options for self-care: massage, exercises, training yourself in new habits, reducing stress, improving posture, acupressure, nutrition, stretching, journaling, meditating, and more. I’m working on designing programs to evaluate and treat specific TMJ-related issues. More later!

If you bump into this limited and limiting attitude, please share this post, and please share in the comments your experiences and any other resources you have found helpful.