We have all heard the expression “grit your teeth and bear it.” For some people, this can be an unconscious way of dealing with stress, by either clenching their jaw or grinding their teeth at night.
Over time, this repetitive pressure not only damages teeth, it can create head and facial tension, clicking in the jaw, and can contribute to neck pain. People who suffer with such symptoms are often diagnosed with TMJ Disorder. TMJ, or the Temporomandibular Joint is the main joint on both sides of the jaw and allows the jaw to move and function.
One of the most common treatments for TMJ Disorder is to wear a mouth guard or splint to protect the teeth at night. Although this does help reduce damage to teeth, it rarely reduces the muscular tension that the clenching causes.
Many people who have suffered with TMJ Disorder are surprised to learn that massage and manual therapies can help improve physical symptoms. For those who prefer a more conservative approach, massage of the face, neck, head, and the area around the ears can relieve jaw tension. For those who are more adventurous, the actual chewing muscles can be massaged from the inside of the cheek while the therapist wears a glove. Although this treatment may sound unusual, such work can be a welcome relief from tension and reduce the vicious cycle of grinding.
From my experience, most people who have jaw tension do not even realize they have it. Their symptoms show up in the form of neck pain or as headaches. I have often found that releasing the muscles of the jaw can be the missing piece to addressing chronic neck pain or headaches.
Some people have structural alignment issues with the teeth that need to be addressed by a dental professional. In these cases, soft tissue work can also be used as a wonderful adjunct to help the system integrate the dental work.
The great thing about having TMJ Disorder addressed within the context of a massage/bodywork session, is that it also can help reduce overall stress which is often the root cause of clenching in the first place. Why “grit your teeth and bear it” if you don’t have to?