TMJ, not a funky band, it is the temporomandibular joint – aka the jaw. Why am I venturing into dentist territory, you ask? I am not, I am still talking massage therapy, just for a dental condition.
When a dentist mentions wear on your enamel and tells you that you have been grinding, or clenching, he is worried about your teeth. That is, after all, his job. Generally he will recommend a mouthpiece to be worn while you sleep to minimize the damage you can do to your teeth. Very helpful, for your enamel.
But what about the rest of the problems that come along with that clenching and grinding? Beyond enamel wear what are the problems of temporomandibular dysfunction? I have a friend who is a tooth grinder and has developed Mr. Universe quality muscles in her jaw. She complains of the chipmunk cheeks that have resulted. Well, just as Mr Universes bulging biceps are a result of his heavy duty workouts, so are her chipmunk cheeks. The only thing that will make them go away is to stop grinding. Not something I can magically make happen. I can help to lengthen the muscles and relieve some of the soreness that comes from her strenuous workouts, which will often minimize the chipmunk-ness.
Keep in mind that the jaw muscles extend up onto the head above the ears and so can the pain of TMJ. Headaches are also common side effects of late night jaw Olympics. There is also a more insidious and widespread impact – neck and shoulder tension. Clicking, locking or side to side movement on opening and closing are all possible results.
By working the neck, shoulder and jaw massage therapy can help to ease pain and diminish muscle tension, restoring functional balance to your TMJ. This is often the key to resolving clicking and locking and can greatly reduce clenching. Working from both the outside of the mouth and the inside, a Registered Massage Therapist can make huge improvements for your jaw.
The scary part of the last paragraph, for most, is that bit about working inside the mouth. There is not much to fear. The treatment time inside the mouth is short, a few minutes at most. The work can be quite sensitive, but a series of hand signals discussed before hand, or the simple expedient of yanking on a practitioners hand, provides clear communication about tolerable pain levels.
The neck and jaw often create dysfunction in each other. Poor posture and stress are the two leading causes of both these conditions. Head-forward posture with a hunched upper back and curved in shoulders creates backwards tension on the mandible (the bottom of your jaw) which, as a hanging structure, is very vulnerable to this type of stress. Clicking and locking disorders are the common result of this. The stress component is one more associated with the grinding. Stress reduction activity can help to reduce your tendency to grind. Yoga, meditation, even a peaceful walk, any activity that calms you can help your stress level. The nice thing about that bit of self-care is that it is good for your whole body, from your blood pressure and digestion right up to your jaw.