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While chronic stress is known to cause a wide range of health problems, stress has not been thoroughly considered as the root of TMJ problems. 

“But I thought TMJ syndrome was all about jaw muscles and joints!” Certainly that is where the symptoms occur—the ones that drive sufferers to all manner of modalities in search of permanent relief. 

 

A Long-term Solution

If you’ve suffered from TMJ syndrome, you know that “permanent” is key. People often start with their dentist, who may prescribe oral devices to reduce bruxism (teeth grinding) while asleep and other aspects of the condition. A doctor might do the same, as well as prescribing muscle relaxants. Some people might see an acupuncturist, or a chiropractor, or try prolotherapy. Many of these modalities might provide temporary relief. And if one is lucky, maybe more.

 

TMJ: Just a Symptom

The problem may be, however, that TMJ is only a symptom itself. TMJ is often a secondary or tertiary manifestation of another problem somewhere else in the body. While it’s well-known that chronic stress may cause a range of health problems, stress has not been thoroughly considered as the root of TMJ problems, and little research has been done so far to establish stress as a cause of TMJ. That is odd. Because one of the clearest physical signs of stress is clenching one’s teeth. “Grit your teeth” is a phrase we hear when we are being encouraged to endure something stressful and difficult. 

 

Massage and TMJ

So how can massage address TMJ? Craniosacral massage is a modality that involves the gentle manipulation and normalization of the cranial bones, and that may be a solution. But many of the muscles implicated stress-created conditions are not in the head or neck. In fact, massage starting at the floor of the pelvis—from the sacrum on up— may be most effective. Jaw muscles also extend below the clavicle and connect directly to points near the trapezius and other back muscles. When dealing with TMJ syndrome, therefore, many craniosacral technicians will work on other parts of the body as well. 

So while a premium massage chair obviously cannot work inside the mouth like a craniosacral masseuse, it can certainly ease the aches and pains and the accompanying biochemical triggers activated by stress elsewhere. The sheer comfort of sitting down and relaxing into a massage may help release tension in the jaw. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from TMJ, don’t neglect to look at the bigger picture. Taking care of stress that affects the whole body may be the answer. And a premium massage chair may be just the right tool.

 

Upledger, John. “TMJ: Primary Problem, or Tip of the Iceberg?” Massage Today, 1 Aug. 2002, www.massagetoday.com/mpacms/mt/article.php?id=10531.

“Career Portal.” Toronto Campus, 24 Feb. 2014, collegeofmassage.com/new-westminster/2014/02/craniosacral-therapy-to-treat-tmj/.