Facial pain is something that all of us would rather avoid. It’s about as popular as lower back pain. In fact, TMJD (temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder) is the #1 cause of facial pain and second only to chronic lower back pain as the most commonly occurring musculoskeletal issue causing pain and disability. All of us have a temporomandibular joint (the moving part of our jaw, a.k.a the TMJ) but not all of us have the disorder that is commonly referred to as TMJ. 5 to 12% of the population has TMJD and about half to two-thirds of those people seek out help to deal with the pain. 15% of those people go on to have chronic TMJD. Common symptoms of TMJD include: difficulty opening the mouth, sensitive teeth, chewing difficulty, a burning sensation in the mouth, pain at the joint (located just in front of the ear), clicking in the jaw, limited mobility in the jaw and pain or sensitivity in the muscles around or near the jaw. If you experience any of these symptoms make sure to check with your family doctor or dentist to determine if it is TMJD.
What if you do have TMJD? Is there anything you can do for yourself? Being mindful to keep your jaw relaxed is a fine start. Not trying to win the world’s record in gum chewing is an excellent idea. Where you can really make the difference is to do the following simple but highly effective acupressure routine once or twice daily.
Acupressure is simply applying comfortable, effective pressure to points on the body to bring about wanted change. Let’s find the points first. There are three points at the jaw (found in the same locations on both sides of the body) and one point at the hand (again, found on both hands) that will help to relieve TMJD pain and dysfunction.
Point 1: The slight dip or swelling in the muscle found at the temples. It’s the point people typically find when they want to rub their temples to relieve pain.
Point 2: Feel for where your cheekbones meet your ears. Then walk your fingers back toward your nose about half an inch. When you CAREFULLY (especially those with very painful jaws and limited range of motion) open your jaw you should feel a place where a “hole” turns into a “bump” just under the cheekbone. Carefully, and gently, open and close your jaw until you locate the point.
Point 3: Feel for the corner of your jaw. This is the place where the jaw bone goes from up and down to front to back. Move your fingers half an inch diagonally toward your nose. CAREFULLY, and GENTLY, clench your jaw until you feel another “bump”. The top of this hard bump is the point.
Point 4: The webbing of your hand between your thumb and first finger. The whole area can be considered the point but feel for any particular area of tenderness.
Once you locate the points the rest is easy! Use any fingers (thumbs, index and middle fingers tend to give stronger pressure than pinkies or ring fingers) to apply pressure to the points. Starting at point 1, working both sides at the same time or each side individually, make 30 small circles applying gentle pressure first clockwise followed by 30 counterclockwise circles. Repeat this procedure for points 2-4. Never use enough pressure to cause pain.
And there you have it, a simple yet effective at-home tool for counteracting the pain and discomfort of TMJD.