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Massage for TMJ

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Updated May 01, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Massage therapy may offer some relief for people with temporomandibular joint disorder(a condition commonly referred to as TMJ syndrome or TMJ). Marked by pain and stiffness in the jaw, face, and neck, TMJ affects the temporomandibular joint, which connects your jaw to the side of your skull. By using massage on the muscles surrounding the temporomandibular joint, TMJ patients may be able to lessen pain and ease TMJ symptoms.

The Science Behind TMJ and Massage

To date, few studies have looked at massage's effectiveness in treatment of TMJ. However, the available research has yielded some positive findings.

In a 2003 report, for instance, researchers surveyed 192 TMJ patients about their use of complementary and alternative medicine in treatment of TMJ. Of all the therapies reported, massage was rated as the most common (as well as one of the most helpful). In a 2007 survey of 126 TMJ patients, meanwhile, participants ranked massage as one of the most effective self-care strategies for both relieving and controlling pain.

Several other small studies have tested massage's effects on TMJ pain. For example, a 2009 study of 15 patients found that receiving massage on the lateral pterygoid muscle (a muscle involved in opening the jaw) helped soothe pain, reduce joint clicking, and increase mouth-opening.

Should You Use Massage for TMJ?

While massage may be of some benefit to people with TMJ, no type of massage therapy can be recommended as a principal treatment for this condition. Strategies such as applying hot and cold packs to the affected area may also offer TMJ relief, while alternative therapies like acupuncture and biofeedback show promise as natural TMJ treatments.

It's crucial to address common triggers like teeth grinding, stress, and behavioral factors (such as excessive gum chewing) in treatment of TMJ.

If you're experiencing TMJ symptoms (such as jaw stiffness, pain, soreness, clicking, and popping), make sure to consult your physician. In addition to prescribing TMJ treatments to pair with massage and/or self-massage, your physician can check for any underlying health problems (such as arthritis) possibly contributing to your TMJ pain.

Sources:

Barriere P, Zink S, Riehm S, Kahn JL, Veillon F, Wilk A. "Massage of the lateral pterygoid muscle in acute TMJ dysfunction syndrome." Rev Stomatol Chir Maxillofac. 2009 Apr;110(2):77-80.

Capellini VK, de Souza GS, de Faria CR. "Massage therapy in the management of myogenic TMD: a pilot study." J Appl Oral Sci. 2006 Jan;14(1):21-6.

DeBar LL, Vuckovic N, Schneider J, Ritenbaugh C. "Use of complementary and alternative medicine for temporomandibular disorders." J Orofac Pain. 2003 Summer;17(3):224-36.

PubMed Health. "TMJ Disorders". January 2010.

Riley JL 3rd, Myers CD, Currie TP, Mayoral O, Harris RG, Fisher JA, Gremillion HA, Robinson ME. "Self-care behaviors associated with myofascial temporomandibular disorder pain." J Orofac Pain. 2007 Summer;21(3):194-202.

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