Celebrate the Season with Bob's holiday deal! Save 20% on 10 Bodywork Sessions - Offer ends 12/24!
1666 Massachusetts Ave, Lexington, MA
(781) 860-2324

Treating TMJ with Bodywork: Relief for Jaw Pain

Last Updated: June 4, 2024

If you suffer from constant jaw pain, headaches, or strange clicking or grinding sounds every time you open your mouth, you may have a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. This condition targets the jaw joint and muscles and can make even the simplest of daily activities like eating, speaking, and yawning, excruciating.

Woman holding her hand to her jaw wincing in pain.

While many people first try dental treatments like mouth guards or even surgery to find relief, there is a natural and effective solution – bodywork.

Bodywork uses therapeutic techniques to relax muscles, increase range of motion, and promote healing – all without invasive procedures or medication. If you’ve struggled to find lasting relief for your TMJ, bodywork may be the missing piece of the puzzle you’ve been searching for.

What is TMJ Disorder?

TMJ disorder is a painful condition affecting the temporomandibular joint – the jaw joint connecting your jawbone to your skull. This complex hinge joint allows you to open and close your mouth for chewing, speaking, and other functions.

The TMJ is made up of several components:

  • Articular disc: A flexible cartilage disc that cushions the joint and helps it move smoothly.
  • Synovial fluid: Lubricating fluid that reduces friction in the joint.
  • Ligaments: These tissues support the joint and limit its movement to prevent dislocation.
  • Muscles: Muscles that control jaw movement, like the masseter, temporalis, and pterygoid muscles.
Vector illustration of treatment of TMJ disorder.

Problems with any of these parts can lead to TMJ. Common causes include:

  • Injury or trauma to the jaw/head
  • Arthritis in the jaw joint
  • Chronic teeth grinding (bruxism)
  • Misaligned bite
  • High stress levels causing muscle tension
Woman sleeping while grinding her teeth, bruxism symptoms.

Common symptoms are:

  • Jaw pain or tenderness
  • Difficulty or discomfort while chewing
  • Clicking or popping sounds in the jaw
  • Locking of the jaw joint
  • Headaches and neck pain

How TMJ Affects Daily Life

TMJ can have a big impact on your daily life. The pain and discomfort can make basic activities challenging and affect your overall well-being in many ways:

  • Eating: Difficulty chewing and swallowing can limit your diet and lead to nutritional issues.
  • Speaking: Pain or stiffness in the jaw can make it hard to speak clearly.
  • Sleeping: TMJ pain can disrupt sleep, leading to fatigue.
  • Mental Health: Chronic pain and discomfort can contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression.

The Benefits of Bodywork for TMJ

Bodywork provides an effective, natural treatment for TMJ by directly addressing the root muscular causes rather than just masking symptoms. Key benefits include:

  1. Muscle Relaxation: Massage relaxes tight jaw muscles causing pain
  2. Increased Mobility: Loosening tissues, or fascia, around the joint improves range of motion
  3. Pain Relief: Relaxing muscle tension reduces pain in other areas.
  4. Improved Circulation: Increasing blood flow to the area promotes healing.
  5. Stress Reduction: The calming effects lower muscle tension.
  6. Non-Invasive: Compared to splints or surgery, bodywork is gentle with little risk.

How Massages Can Help Relieve TMJ Pain

Therapeutic massage is a primary bodywork technique for treating TMJ. Different types include:

Intraoral Massage

Intraoral massage involves working on the muscles inside the mouth. This technique can effectively relieve TMJ pain by targeting the specific muscles that contribute to jaw tension. Using gloved hands or tools, deep pressure releases trigger points, increases blood flow, and reduces tension in these hard-to-reach muscles.

Woman receiving an intraoral jaw massage for to treat TMJ disorder.

Benefits of Intraoral Massage:

  • Directly accesses deep jaw muscles
  • Relieves tension and pain
  • Improves jaw mobility

External Jaw Massage

External jaw massage focuses on the muscles around the jaw, including the masseter and temporalis muscles. Techniques like kneading and friction “unlock” tightness and break up adhesions in these muscles. This type of massage can help reduce muscle tension and improve jaw function.

Woman receiving external jaw massage to treat TMJ disorder.

Techniques for External Jaw Massage:

  • Gentle kneading of the jaw muscles
  • Applying pressure to trigger points
  • Circular motions to relax the muscles

Neck and Shoulder Massage

Neck and shoulder massage can also help relieve TMJ pain by addressing muscle tension in these areas. Many people with TMJ have tightness in their neck and shoulders, which can exacerbate jaw pain.

Benefits of Neck and Shoulder Massage:

  • Reduces overall muscle tension
  • Improves posture
  • Relieves stress and promotes relaxation

Massages significantly reduce TMJ-related headaches and migraines by directly addressing muscle tension causing referred pain.

Additional Bodywork Techniques for TMJ

Craniosacral Therapy

Craniosacral therapy involves gentle manipulation of the skull and spine to improve the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. This technique can help reduce tension and pain in the jaw and surrounding areas.

Myofascial Release

Myofascial release focuses on relieving tension in the fascia, the connective tissue surrounding muscles. This technique can help reduce pain and improve jaw mobility.


Acupressure involves applying pressure to specific points on the body to relieve pain and tension. It can be an effective complementary treatment for TMJ pain.

At-Home TMJ Care

While professional bodywork is very beneficial, you can supplement treatment at home with:


  • Jaw Muscle Massage: Use your fingers to gently massage the muscles around your jaw in circular motions.
  • Neck Stretch: Gently tilt your head to one side to stretch your neck muscles, holding the stretch for 15-30 seconds.
  • Temple Massage: Use your fingertips to massage your temples in small, circular motions to relieve tension.


  • Jaw Stretch: Open your mouth as wide as possible without causing pain, then slowly close it. Repeat 5-10 times.
  • Resistance Exercise: Place your thumb under your chin and gently push upward while opening your mouth. Hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 5-10 times.

Relaxation and Stress Reduction Techniques

  • Deep Breathing: Practice deep breathing exercises to reduce stress and muscle tension.
  • Meditation: Spend a few minutes each day meditating to calm your mind and body.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Gradually tense and then relax each muscle group in your body, starting from your toes and working up to your head.

These gentle self-massage techniques and jaw exercises can provide relief when done with proper form and guidance from your therapist. However, don’t overdo it.

When to Seek Professional Help

While self-massage and home exercises can be helpful, it’s important to know when to seek professional help. Consult a healthcare professional or a qualified massage therapist if:

  • Your TMJ pain persists or worsens.
  • You experience severe jaw locking or limited mobility.
  • Intense headaches/migraines
  • Facial swelling or jaw asymmetry
  • Home treatments do not provide sufficient relief.

Most professionals recommend starting with frequent sessions to get acute symptoms under control before reducing to a maintenance schedule.

Integrating Bodywork Into Your Wellness Plan

For optimal, lasting TMJ relief, implement the following strategies:

  • Consistency: Stick to regular bodywork sessions, home exercises, and stress management. TMJ disorders often require persistent effort to correct long-standing imbalances.
  • Holistic Approach: Combine bodywork with chiropractic care, physical therapy, nutritional counseling, and other complementary therapies.
  • Mind-Body: Address the psychological factors through CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), mindfulness, yoga, etc. as stress can worsen TMJ symptoms.
  • Self-Care: Be an active partner by applying ergonomics, taking breaks to reduce muscle tension, and improving sleep habits.

Conquer TMJ and Reclaim Your Life

Woman smiling happily while holding her hands around her jaw and face because her jaw pain has been relieved.

TMJ disorders can rob you of life’s simplest pleasures, turning everyday activities into sources of chronic pain and frustration. Yet, there’s hope. Bodywork therapies like massage provide natural relief by treating the muscle imbalances causing your TMJ discomfort.

The most successful approach is an integrated one, combining bodywork with complementary therapies, lifestyle changes, and mindful self-care. Embrace this journey, trust the process, and seek out a skilled bodywork professional. With dedication and expert guidance, you can conquer TMJ, release jaw tension, and reclaim your vibrant health and joy.

Share post: