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

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, hard to access muscles, and they are often key muscles to address to release jaw tension. It takes patience to get close to 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 upper head attaches to the disc (not labeled) between the temporal bone and mandible. Tension in this upper 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 ligament behind the joint (also not labeled), manual intraoral therapy can relieve tension.

The medial pterygoids are also major culprits.

anatomy of the jaw muscles

It’s not that the other jaw muscles don’t contribute. The external jaw muscles — the masseters and temporalises — also play a role in jaw tension and pain (they can have trigger points and taut bands within the muscle).

I’ve learned through trial and error that one 75-minute session provides relief (sometimes tremendous relief, as in pain-free and a 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 strain 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.

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. To that end, I offer various ways to pay for it (all up front, pay for a single session before deciding to do the 5-series then pay the balance at the second session, or pay session by session). I offer a $50 discount for 5 sessions within 4-6 weeks to encourage people to get the 5 series.

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 intraoral on the pterygoid muscles.

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. 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, and you can signal me to get my hand out of your mouth (and I watch you for signs of discomfort).
  • My sessions start with full body alignment and progress toward the intra-oral work, ending with deeply relaxing craniosacral therapy to help your system integrate the changes.
  • My referral partners include dentists, chiropractors, doctors, a Rolfer, acupuncturists, craniosacral therapists, an Ayurveda practitioner, a Somatic Experience 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. 

Sacroiliac joint healed!

Way back in late June 2015, I wrote about using a sacroiliac belt for pain in that joint. (See When the healer needs healing: chronic pain in a sacroiliac joint).

I posted a few updates. (See Update on using the sacroiliac beltA cheaper sacroiliac belt, working toward “the new normal”SI belt update, plus insoles for Morton’s foot, and Pelvic rehab update: getting bodywork, exercises, kinesiotaping). I haven’t had much to add since then: getting the belt and wearing it nearly 24/7, using the insoles, continuing to gather information, get bodywork, etc., it just takes time.

It’s now January 2017, and I’m here to give you an update, prompted by a couple of comments I’ve received recently from readers who are suffering from SI joint pain.

I finally stopped wearing the belt last month, in December 2016. That’s right, I wore it most of the time for 18 months, a year and a half. My pelvis feels pretty aligned now. It’s not perfect, but it is strong and tight enough that the joint stays in place. Since I started wearing it, I haven’t had that unstable, painful feeling of my SI joint going out. Continue reading

When the healer needs healing: chronic pain in a sacroiliac joint

There’s an old saying that people go into healing professions to heal themselves.

I believe it’s true. I went to many healers seeking healing of my own body, mind, heart, and spirit. All of those healers helped me, and none hurt me.

Could I have saved myself pain, time, and money by knowing which kind of healer I needed most for what issue? Yes. I didn’t have a guide, just my own knowledge and intuition and willingness to see what worked.

For the longest time it never occurred to me that I could become a healer. I liked the people who worked on healing me. Their work seemed more interesting than my jobs in government and technology. They were obviously caring people who had honed various kinds of healing skills, and the healing work seemed to be an extension of who they were, not just a job they did.

When I finally began to think about what I wanted to do in “retirement,” healing came to mind…and here I am, in a new profession, offering massage therapy, bodywork, and changework.

For 19 years, since a car wreck on April 24, 1996, I have had semi-chronic pain in one of my sacroiliac joints. In the accident, my lap belt held, my shoulder belt didn’t, the air bag didn’t deploy, there were two head-banging impacts that bled or turned into a goose egg, I was knocked unconscious, and my sacroiliac joints took the brunt of the trauma when my upper body was pulled away from from my lower body.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 11.34.49 PM

Last week I got the help I needed to know how to fix it.  Continue reading

A day in the life of a massage therapist

I’ve been doing massage since June, but I haven’t posted very much about it on this blog. I’ve been getting my bearings, gaining hands-on experience. I also maintain the confidentiality of my clients.

I’d like to write about my work, as long as my clients remain anonymous. I would have liked to read about what it’s like to work as a massage therapist, so maybe me posting about it will serve that need for someone else.

I massaged a woman who had recently had jaw surgery. She was going to physical therapy, and the PT said her neck muscles were so tight, a massage was in order.

At her request, I just worked on her back, shoulders, and neck, and I persuaded her to let me spend some time working on her feet.

It is incredibly relaxing to have foot reflexology and/or foot massage. I gave her both. There are zones on the feet that correspond to the rest of the body, so working the feet softens tense areas before I even get to them.

If you ever just want to relax and don’t have time for a full body massage, foot massage and reflexology are wonderful.

I allowed plenty of time in our session to work on her neck both when she was face down and after she turned over. I did a combination of Swedish massage and deep massage (Lauterstein method) to work on her circulatory and lymphatic systems and her structure and energy.

She told me she was having difficulty sleeping. She said she had always slept on her stomach with no pillow. Post-surgery, she was having to sleep on her back, propped up on pillows. She found it awkward and uncomfortable.

I shared with her what had helped me after I had had some major chiropractic work on my neck and was told to sleep on my back: hugging a pillow against my body. The weight of it feels comforting to a stomach sleeper.

Afterwards, she said she felt much better.

That’s one of the things I love most about being a massage therapist. What I do makes a tangible difference in people’s quality of life.

I worked on another woman who had been on her feet all weekend at an outdoor music festival. She wanted a lot of attention to her feet and legs as part of her full body massage. She booked a 90 minute massage, which is twice as relaxing as a 60 minute massage!

Truthfully, I don’t know how to quantify how relaxing a massage is. That’s a subjective measure. I just know that when I give a 60 minute massage, if the person is larger than average or has an area that needs extra attention and still wants a full body Swedish massage, the massage feels rushed, to me.

I don’t know if it feels rushed to them. Maybe that’s all they’ve ever known, and they have no idea how much more relaxed they could feel if they had a longer session. It’s their choice — and I’m not beyond suggesting that a client book a longer session next time!

I did Swedish/deep massage and reflexology/foot massage on her and was able to work at a more relaxed and relaxing pace. IMO, she did herself a huge favor by booking 90 minutes. She relaxed very deeply and looked happy when I met with her after the session.

I like using aromatherapy. It adds a nice dimension to a massage both to the client and to me.

I often put the essential oil blend Valor (from Young Living) on the client’s feet before massaging them. The way I see it, everyone needs more valor to face life, and here’s a way to get some!

When clients turn over from being face down, their breathing is often congested. When that’s the case, I like to take a drop of Eucalyptus radiata oil, rub it between my hands, and then place my hands near the client’s nose. Their eyes are covered, so they don’t see it coming. They simply smell the eucalyptus, a pleasant surprise, and it clears their breathing passages.

At the end of a massage, especially when the client has gone into a deep trance or fallen asleep, I like to rub a drop of peppermint or rosemary oil between my palms and allow the scent to help wake the client up in a refreshing way.