How Acupuncture Can Help Your TMJ

UPDATE: For detailed information and practical steps to help you beat TMJ disorder naturally, take a look at TMJ No More.


For centuries, Chinese medicinal practitioners have had great success with acupuncture.

Acupuncture has been proven to relieve the measureless myriad of symptoms caused by temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.

Thirty percent of the population has felt its torturous symptoms and have sought relief. If you are like the other 60 million Americans who suffer from TMJ symptoms, there’s good news. The suffering can and will stop.

From decreased mobility, to the clicking, popping, and locking of your jaws, sometimes you may wonder if there is something…anything that can alleviate your inexorable ailment.

When those things others take for granted, such as talking and eating become exasperating activities, then begins the maddening search for answers anywhere…even on the back of a cracker jack box.

Western medicine has done a fantastic job at discrediting Eastern medicinal practices, but acupuncture is in fact, a superlative way to control the debilitating symptoms that accompany TMJ disorders.

Acupuncture can be used in conjunction with your current medications and other forms of treatment, but unlike most drugs, it has no side effects.

Although you may need to continue acupuncture sessions over time to continue to reap its benefits, it’s worth it. Where most conventional treatments fall short, masking any underlying issues, acupuncture addresses the root of the problem.

TMJ symptoms can be a result of mislaid orthodontics, trauma to the jaw, grinding or clenching of the teeth, chewing vigorously, emotional stress, and/or improper jaw alignment. Subsequent pain may even radiate down your neck and branch out, spreading to the back and shoulders.

The pain can last from hours to months.

If the symptoms go untreated, they can persist indefinitely.

It’s Complicated

Referred to as the most complex set of joints in the body, each temporomandibular joint is comprised of two separate joints. We use our TMJ to talk, eat, sing, laugh, cough; just think about how many times you open your mouth everyday.

The two joints that make up the TMJ allow it to slide, also called translate, and rotate. When you feel pain originating from TMJ, there is physical evidence of damage that you cannot see. Beneath the surface, bone and cartilage is beginning to wear down.

It’s a powerful joint and its unbridled complexity is just one of the reasons why it’s difficult to treat. The muscles surrounding the joint work overtime when TMJ syndrome symptoms arise.

Sometimes these overused muscles are the culprits for the vast array of TMJ symptoms.

Jaw muscles are capable of an impressive 200 pounds of force… and that’s just for chewing. With the equivalent of the proverbial Venus fly trap ready to snap, your TMJ gets a pretty good workout simply doing what it was designed to do. Add a little teeth grinding and aggressive chewing…and that’s one tired TMJ.

Since pinpointing how your symptoms arose may be a daunting challenge, acupuncture bypasses the why, aiming to relieve the stress where you need it.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the 3000-year-old Chinese practice of using fine needles on specific parts of the body to balance the body’s energy or Qi (“chee”).

According to ancient Chinese medicine, Qi flows through meridian paths. The meridian is responsible for connecting all organs to the surface of the body. The Chinese found that the body’s Qi could become unbalanced, sluggish, or even fully obstructed.

Maintaining balance is the ultimate objective of acupuncture.

In the event that the Qi becomes blocked, inserting needles along the meridian at specific locations effectively returns the flow to a harmonious and balanced state.

Acupuncture has been used to treat obesity, infertility, sciatica, and migraines. There’s not much that this versatile and painless procedure can’t fix.

Also used to treat anxiety, a term that seldom is used without the word stress, it seems as though the Western world has been missing out on an ancient panacea. Stress is one of the major causes that exacerbate TMJ symptoms.

Anxiety is another pesky and sometimes debilitating disorder that often is treated with harmful medications.

Assistant Director of the Nurse Anesthesia Program at the School of Nursing & Health Studies at Georgetown University and certified acupuncturist, Ladan Eshkevari, PhD, CRNA, Lac, claims that patients treated for anxiety with acupuncture can expect to see a decline in symptoms in as little as two weeks. She takes a stand against medication and staunchly advocates acupuncture treatment whenever possible.

It is possible that since acupuncture has been proven to alleviate certain levels of anxiety, a contributor to stress, acupuncture may have a causational effect on pain reduction.

It most certainly has a correlative effect as it has been proven to diminishes and often eliminate two large factors that contribute to TMJ symptoms.

We Are But A Map of Nerves

Acupuncture creates harmony between the mind and body, treating TMJ syndrome symptoms by wiping out all neuromuscular tension present in the jaw.

Not only does it decrease stress to the affected area, but addresses stress throughout the whole body.

As we are but a map of nerves, some of the areas stimulated during acupuncture might surprise you, (like the elbow) but once you understand how everything is connected, it makes sense.

In the 1970s, Western medicine set out to disprove acupuncture as hocus-pocus.

What they found was quite the opposite.

Modern literature has revealed that directly stimulating a nerve not only reduces pain, but it stimulates the release of endorphins (those happy chemicals in your body) and neurotransmitters.

A Little Poke

The needles used to perform acupuncture are notably thinner than a hypodermic needle: 25-50 times thinner, in fact. Sometimes these needles are used around the ear and jaw. These probably make sense as TMJ syndrome sufferers often complain of pain in those areas.

Surprisingly, acupuncturists will also insert needles near the knees, elbows, and big toe. It has been found that treating distal regions of the body have had remarkable effects at reducing inflammation.

Although very effective, especially if done in combination with other treatment, acupuncture isn’t a quick fix. In order to get the most from treatment, it is recommended that patients receive weekly 30-minute sessions for up to six weeks.

In some mild cases, four weeks may be all you need.

Your acupuncturist will help you determine what’s needed.

The results can be remarkable; however, it is important to schedule your next appointment before the onset of future symptoms present. Maintaining your Qi and reeducating those overused TMJ muscles is the best prevention.

Truth In Numbers

In 2008, a study reported that acupuncture reduced symptoms 18-20 years post treatment.

In 2007, a British experiment was conducted on 70 TMJ sufferers. They were all treated with acupuncture and out of the total participants, 85% reported improved symptoms, while 75% reported diminished pain intensity.

Injections of cortisone can be dangerous.

They can cause an infection at the injection site and increase risks of cortisone flare. Analgesics, such as acetaminophen can cause irreparable damage to your liver and narcotics are addictive.

There has to be a better way.

If the dental receptionist recognizes your voice when you ring to schedule yet another appointment or if the pharmacist knows your cocktail like a bartender in a lab coat, it’s time to give acupuncture a try.

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