Jaw Pain: A Massage Therapy Perspective

Joel Ackerman, RMT

Anyone who has had, or been around someone experiencing jaw discomfort, knows that it is no laughing matter. It is a class of pain unto itself, and it makes perfect sense, since we use our mouths more or less constantly throughout our day. Talking, biting and chewing our food, yawning, and most of our facial expressions all involve significant work by our mouth and jaw muscles. Not surprisingly, some of these muscles are among the strongest muscles in our body. So what happens when these muscles get sore?

You may be surprised to hear that massage therapy is a VERY effective way to deal with sore jaw muscles. Often referred to as TMJ pain (much easier to say than ‘Temporomandibular Joint’), TMJ dysfunction is fairly common, and can arise for a variety of reasons. Your TMJ is just in front of your ear, and where your lower jaw articulates with your skull. Teeth grinding, trauma (like a blow to the jaw, especially with the mouth open), improper positioning of the teeth, postural issues, and even prolonged dental work can all cause TMJ dysfunction. Interestingly though, apart from some serious dental work (i.e. having your mouth open for an hour or more at a time!), or some stress-related teeth grinding, the most common contributing factor to TMJ pain is tight neck muscles! When our necks our tight, it affects our posture: our heads jut forward, our chins stick out. This will have a significant effect on how well the TMJ functions. As well, our necks and jaws share lots of muscles, namely all the hyoid muscles under our chins (did you know one of these muscles even attaches to your shoulder blade?!?).

Myofascial and massage techniques applied to the jaw itself, the temple area above the ear, under the chin, and all the associated neck areas mentioned above are predictable areas I would address. Then we can actually do intra-oral massage to address the muscles inside your mouth! Using disposable gloves and clear and comfortable communication with the client, there are four muscles on each side of your mouth that can be massaged. As you may have guessed already, this can be a little unusual, and even uncomfortable, but just a few minutes of massage to these muscles makes an enormous difference! Remember, these muscles NEVER get touched, so they respond quite well to even a small amount of massage.

So whether you’re having some lingering jaw pain from some recent dental work, or your jaw seems to be the spot you hold a lot of tension, don’t discount massage therapy as viable and effective option to dealing with these issues!