Massage Therapy for Jaw Pain

Joel Ackerman, RMT

I’m sure you can probably guess the most common complaints I hear from clients: sore low backs, tight shoulders and necks, headaches, cranky knees, and so on. In addition to all of these more predictable aches, one complaint I hear more often than you might expect is jaw pain. Often it is mentioned in passing, and almost as a joke; “But I don’t suppose there’s anything you can do for that…” My clients are always surprised when my response is, “Yes, we can absolutely do some massage there!”

I have seen Massage Therapy be very effective in relieving all sorts of jaw pain, or as we call it, TMJ pain (named after the Temporomandibular Joint). In fact, there are a number of clients who have made intra-oral massage a part of their regular treatment plan, as they recognize the preventative benefits, even if they aren’t in pain! Other times, one or two treatments are all it takes to make a significant difference in how much pain someone is experiencing. In other situations, when people aren’t complaining of jaw pain, a little bit of release to the jaw makes a vast improvement in the overall tension they are feeling in their head and neck.

So how does Massage Therapy work exactly when it comes to the jaw? Treatment options for jaw pain include fascial work around the jaw joint at the ear, massage done directly to the muscles in and around the jaw. This includes some intra-oral massage. Using latex-free disposable gloves, and after establishing a clear communication system with the client, I begin by working on one muscle at a time (there are 4 on each side of the jaw). This can be a bit uncomfortable, as these muscles almost never get touched, but then the relief felt afterwards is almost instant! And because these muscles don’t get touched very much, a minute or two of massage goes a long way. Then we finish with more fascial work and massage to the muscles in the neck. The jaw and neck are very closely related, and dysfunction in one of these areas often leads to dysfunction in the other.

Another treatment option that I have had a lot of success with when dealing with jaw pain, is CranioSacral Therapy. I have been incorporating CranioSacral Therapy as part of my practice for a little more than a year now, and have been really impressed with the results. TMJ dysfunction is one of the areas it has proven to be the most effective. Your jaw bone (aka mandible) is a cranial bone, so it is part of your CranioSacral system. For those that don’t know, your CranioSacral system refers to the cranial bones and dura that protect your brain and spinal cord, right down to and including your tailbone (aka sacrum). The Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF) that bathes these structures is always moving. As a result, there are subtle movements that occur at each of your cranial bones and sacrum. Any restriction in this system can lead to various dysfunctions, such as tight muscles, headaches, and yes, jaw pain (among other things). Craniosacral Therapy is a very gentle therapy that addresses these restrictions. Often the client feels virtually nothing aside from relaxation.

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!