Acupuncture: The natural way to treat jaw pain
What is TMD / TMJ disorder?
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD) are one of the most common causes of pain and dysfunction in the jaw and surrounding muscles and ligaments. It is estimated to affect 10 million adults in the United States, with one-third of adults experiencing some degree of TMD symptoms during their lifetime. It is the second most common musculoskeletal disorder after chronic low-back pain causing pain and disability.
While used interchangeably, TMD refers to a group of disorders while TMJ refers specifically to the temporomandibular joint itself.
The good news is that TMD/TMJ is treatable and often reversible with proper treatment and home self-care. Acupuncture provides a natural, safe and effective drug-free and minimally invasive treatment option. Jaw pain relief is often achieved in just a few treatments in acute cases and within several weeks for chronic cases.
Do you have TMD / TMJ?
When the tissues surrounding the jaw become irritated or inflamed they interfere with normal movement and function and can lead to a host of symptoms extending to the face, head, neck and/or shoulders.
- Common TMD/TMJ symptoms
- • Jaw pain, tenderness and tightness
• Facial pain or swelling
• Earaches or tinnitus
• Problems opening and closing your mouth or jaw locking up
• Clicking or popping sounds in jaw
• Difficulty chewing or pain while chewing
• Pain in the neck or shoulders
What causes temporomandibular joint disorders?
The causes of TMD are multifactorial. Genetics, trauma, deterioration from arthritis, vitamin D deficiency, and hormones can be involved. Though, by far the most common causes we see are from a combination of lifestyle factors and stress.
- Stress is one of the biggest culprits causing and aggravating TMD/TMJ. It is also a key factor in the frequency of acute flare ups. Chronic stress floods the body with cortisol, forcing the body into an ongoing inflammatory state. For those susceptible to TMD/TMJ disorders, addressing stress is a must.
- Jaw clenching or teeth grinding (bruxism) are unconscious coping responses typically stemming from psychological and emotional stress. This can look like waking up with a sore jaw in the morning or a sense of tenderness and fatigue in your jaw at the end of a work day. It can also show up as recurring headaches at the base of the skull, at the temples, and below the ears. If bruxism goes unchecked, it can wear down the jaw joint itself or cause serious dental problems such as cracked teeth.
- Poor posture is a cause that’s frequently overlooked. Forward head posture is the term describing posture in which the head and neck protrude in front of the shoulders. Over time, the muscles of the head, neck, upper back and jaws become over-contracted, leading to an overload of physical stress on the entire body from head to feet. Behaviors that lead to poor upper body posture include:
- Excessive hunching over a computer
- Frequent mobile device use
- Sleeping curled up or head elevated too high on the pillow
- Being overweight
- Excessive consumption of hard, crunchy or chewy food also plays a role. Eating foods such as nuts, apples, pretzels, bagels, gum, and chewy candy can trigger flare ups.
How acupuncture helps with TMD / TMJ pain relief
Multiple research studies have shown that acupuncture is a highly effective therapy for temporomandibular disorders and myofascial pain, with pain eliminated for the majority of patients.
Clinically, acupuncture excels at treating muscular tightness, jaw pain, headaches, neck and shoulder pain, earaches, and underlying stress.
Top 5 ways acupuncture works
- Eases pain sensations by changing nerve pain signals
- Targets muscle relaxation to relieve tension in the jaw, ears, head, neck, and shoulders
- Decreases inflammatory signals brought on by pain and injury
- Calms cortisol and the fight-or-flight
- Releases endorphins and neurotransmitters to increase feel-good chemicals
What can you expect from treatments?
Your practitioner will evaluate your unique situation, considering both the pattern of symptoms and your health as a whole. Common diagnoses for TMD/TMJ include Qi & blood stagnation, imbalances in the stomach and gallbladder meridian systems, and Qi stagnation in the liver meridian.
- Treatment modalities used to restore balance to the meridians and body systems typically include:
- • Local and distal acupuncture points
• Trigger point therapy
• Cupping and gua sha manual therapies
• Body work
Your practitioner will also suggest supportive home care techniques such as compresses, self-acupressure, and stretching exercises as well as discuss stress reduction and relaxation techniques and environmental postural changes to reduce or prevent reoccurence.
When to seek acupuncture care?
With proper intervention, TMJ dysfunction can be successfully treated. If you think you have TMJ, call Lokahi today to schedule a consultation or make an appointment with one of our acupuncture pain specialists.
TMD can be acute, chronic, or cyclical with pain ranging from mild discomfort to severe. The impact of TMD on daily activities, psychosocial functioning and quality of life cannot be underestimated.
It’s best to treat the condition early on before symptoms worsen. Prompt treatment can improve outcomes and quality of life, help manage the condition, and minimize the chance of chronic or serious dysfunction.
We will also work in connection with your physician, dentist, or other providers to ensure you get the care you need.
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