Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, December/January 2001.
First it’s work. Then it’s the traffic jam. Next it’s the noisy neighbors. For most, stress-inducing days are quickly remedied by a hot bath, a quiet dinner and rest. For sufferers of TMJ disorder, however, simple stressors like those above can be more difficult to nullify because the tension accumulating from an exhaustive day can transfer from other areas of the body and focalize on the temporomandibular joint.
Fortunately, new self-help efforts to minimize the pain associated with TMJ disorder are easy and effective. Ideology surrounding treatment is shifting from concentration only upon the jaw and facial area toward a therapy that accounts for the whole person. Though permanent relief may require either orthodontics or a long-term holistic approach, temporary relief can be attained by including the following self-care techniques as an adjunct to a complementary, more lasting corrective.
• Ice – To numb pain and reduce and control inflammation, ice packs can be applied to the appropriate area. Do not exceed 15 minutes. Never apply an ice pack directly to the skin.
• Heat – Releasing muscle spasms, increasing circulation and movement, and improving function can be achieved with moist heat from a heat pack, heating pad or hot water bottle.
• Diet and exercise – Taking a proactive role in lifestyle management can result in less TMJ discomfort. Conscious nutritional decisions not only benefit the body’s well-being, but also can be easier on the jaw and neck area. For example, diced or blended foods do not stress the temporomandibular joint as much as solids or foods that require the mouth to be stretched in order to be eaten.
Scientists have been saying for years integrating regular exercise into your daily schedule is a stress reducer. But stretching and proper breathing also can be advantageous. Including the practice of yoga can be helpful in strengthening the muscles of the body in a slower manner.
• Bodywork – Self-applied techniques and professional massage therapy relax tightened muscles and improve circulation and range of motion. Manual methods, like craniosacral therapy, which use a light, non-evasive touch to enhance the physiological system of the body, and myofascial release, which incorporates mild stretching techniques, have proven successful in treating a wide array of ailments.
Though there are many reasons people are affected by TMJ — stress, dental surgery, whiplash, bad posture, etc. — a trend exists in transitioning from quick analyses and surgical countermeasures, which are not 100 percent effective in remedying the disorder, toward the employment of less drastic measures, giving people more control of their healing process.
For more information:
• TMJ Association: 262-432-0350; www.tmj.org
• Robert Uppgaard, Taking Control of TMJ (Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, 1999).