Jaw Pain and Massage Therapy

Over the past few weeks, I have written about the therapeutic benefits of massage therapy, specifically for infants and adolescents. Now I want to focus on the therapeutic benefits of massage therapy for all people, children and adults.

This entry will be about jaw pain and ways massage therapy can help combat it. A recent article in the Massage Therapy Journal (Winter 2008) focused on the causes of jaw pain and how massage therapy can be effective in combating it. To read a version of the article online, click here.

The article starts off by explaining why jaw pain can be such a prevalent problem. And when one stops to think about it, it seems amazing that there isn’t more jaw pain in the world – after all the jaw does a lot: it chews, swallows, speaks, rolls up and down, slides left and right, and moves forward and backward.

Not surprising – given that it can do so many complicated things – there are many causes of jaw pain. One common cause is trigger points (see my previous post on trigger points) which can develop very easily in the many different muscle groups located in and around the jaw. These muscle groups are essential for the multi-function operations of the jaw, and trigger points located within these muscle groups can defer pain to other portions of the jaw.

Targeting and loosening trigger points that have developed with effective massage therapy can help relieve the jaw pain. This can prove essential as, again, the jaw performs a wide array of daily (even hourly, every minute) activities.

Aside from muscular work, therapists can also focus on fascia problems that may develop. The article notes that neck fascia can shorten, causing asymmetries that can cause pain. Massage therapy that focuses on fixing such fascia problems can help relieve jaw pain as well.

In addition to fascia and muscle problems, the article goes on to explain that jaw pain can be caused by postural and neurological problems. In these cases, a professional other than a massage therapist (such as an occupational therapist or medical professional) may be able to better deal with these issues.

As I wrote in an entry about ethics in massage therapy, therapists should feel confident in their abilities to treat pain, but they also need to know their limits. Massage therapy is capable of great therapeutic results, as we will see in forthcoming postings, but truly remarkable therapists know when a problem lies out of their (or their profession’s) capabilities. While massage therapists can do a lot to combat jaw pain, they also have a role in ensuring that people get the right amount of treatment they need, from the people who can best deliver it.

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