Pain Relief for TMJ

Chiropractic adjustments, cognitive behavioral therapy, even botox treatments are some of the ways people attempt to rid themselves of temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ).

TMJ (or TMD) is a term used to refer to pain and restriction in the jaw and the musclestmj of chewing that connect the mandible to your skull.  Online sources generally agree that the causes of TMJ are not well understood, yet Medline Plus had some pretty spot-on causes, from a Somatic Educator perspective:

  • Orthodontic braces
  • Poor posture
  • Stress and teeth grinding
  • Poor diet/lack of sleep

Ah, stress! What a great place to start. If you’re already familiar with Hanna Somatics you know that all humans respond to stress in very predictable full body patterns of muscular holding. Muscles that are tight have learned to stay tight due to “contract” signals from the brain. The key to releasing tight muscles and regaining optimum muscle function, whether in the back, shoulders, legs or jaw, is to reset the brain’s sensation and control of the muscles.

TMJ is a functional problem of the muscular system and it can be reversed with somatic movement.

TMD and TMJ are somatic problems of a functional nature – yet another example of Sensory Motor Amnesia. TMJ can occur due to a one-sided accident, slumped posture over the computer, and most commonly, excessive dental work.

I just successfully reversed a serious case of TMJ that developed due to a lot of dental work. The photo below is from the last of six visits to my dentist’s office. Notice in the photo on the left how my head and neck are turned slightly to the right. Trust me when I say that there was tension in my neck, jaw and face along the right side.

What you can’t see because of the paper sheet over my chest is that my shoulders were rounded forward. This is a typical “dental patient posture.”

MP dentist

“Dental patient posture” is a Red Light Reflex pattern of collapsing inward with the neck cocked backward. The need to keep the jaw open and often contract one side of the jaw to make room for dental implements or hold them in place teaches the muscles that move the jaw to stay tight. This contributes to TMJ. The muscles of the face are no different from muscles in the rest of the body; they can be reeducated through somatic exploration.

In the video below I demonstrate a sequence of Somatic Explorations that will teach you to retrain the muscles that move the jaw so that they can relax and release. You will learn to move your jaw freely again… without pain! Repeat these movements several times at your own pace. You will explore the natural movement of the jaw: open, close, side to side gliding and gently swinging as if making a “U” shape.

Remember that TMJ is part of a larger pattern of muscle tightness in the center of the body. I recommend learning basic Somatic Exercises (click here to buy my DVDs), especially those for the neck and shoulders. There are larger muscles at the center of the body that attach up into the neck and skull an help them move easily and freely. When these larger muscles (especially the back and front of the body) hold excess muscle tension, they, too, can contribute to TMJ.

11 thoughts on “Pain Relief for TMJ

  1. Oh, thank you SO much! I have been looking for exactly this information for several weeks now. My TMJ flared up and was giving me absolute fits and I kept thinking, “Surely Martha has a series of movements that can help this!” And surely enough, you do. I’ve done it once so far and I can tell that it’s going to help.

    I have a bridal client who is a massage therapist, whom I saw today and was telling her about Essential Somantics. She said that it makes perfect sense to her and she wants me to give her the link. So I just posted on Facebook about this and linked her name to it.

    Blessed Be!

    Susi Matthews

    • Hi Susi,

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you’re already finding the somatic movement helpful. I forgot to put the forward and back movement of the jaw into my video. You can jut the jaw forward, then slide it back; you won’t have that great a range of motion, but that’s OK. It’s not meant to be big….just smooth.

      Keep exploring and let me know how it goes! And thank you so much for passing my information on to your client.


      • Ah good, I’ll add that in. My movement isn’t smooth at all yet, but I’ll keep at it and try in front of a mirror from here out. Yes, your Somatic movements for Piraformis helped me SO much a couple of years ago, that I am a firm believer. I think I told you then, I go to Cleveland Chiropractic College for treatment by senior interns. I’ve told each of my chiropractic interns about it since. I don’t know if any of them have picked up on it but I suspect the smart and curious ones who are interested in any process that might really relieve pain, will look into it more.

        Thanks for the reply!

  2. Martha,
    I’m wondering the function of placing the hands and fingers by the chin and under the chin. Are the hands providing gentle resistance, or guidance? Or neither?

    • Hi Lucy,

      Yes, the hands are there both for gentle guidance and for sensory feedback. It’s helpful to feel (with your fingers) what the muscles are doing. You’ll be able to feel whether or not the muscles on one side of the jaw are lengthening at a different rate than the other side. You’ll discover all sorts of things through touch!
      Placing the finger under the chin and adding a gentle bit of resistance “wakes up” the brain and adds sensory feedback.

      Enjoy the explorations!

  3. This came at a perfect time for me, since I am having a recurring problem with my jaw. I’ve been using your technique and it really helps. Thanks so much for the clear demonstration.

    Meg Noble Peterson

  4. You’re very welcome! I’ll be adding another “Somatics Exercises for TMJ, Part 2” soon. Stay tuned.
    It’s always important to pay attention to the full body pattern of tightness (which starts in the center of the body) that accompanies a condition like TMJ. When you remember to stand in neutral (not slumped in a red light reflex), these jaw explorations will have longer lasting results.

    All the best,

  5. Hi Martha,

    Can TMJ caused by an excessive crying?
    Can it affect facial muscles? Recently, one side of my face started to move to another for a few secs, my throat may get tight along with neck and lower jaw.

    • Hi Julia,
      Sure…any excessive tension in the face or jaw can contribute to TMJ. And, resisting the urge to cry and getting stuck in the red light reflex (the reflex that is evoked in response to grief, fear, worry, frustration, anxiety, the need to protect) can create TMJ. Looking at your life, how you live it, feel it and move through your struggles can help you improve both your body, your TMJ and your control over your life.


  6. Pingback: Continuing Education Credits for Massage Therapists Now Available from Essential Somatics – Pain Relief Through Movement

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