Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) causes pain throughout the muscles controlling the jaw joint. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) operates like a gliding hinge to connect your jawbone to your skull. TMJ syndrome often involves painful symptoms such as jaw pain and tenderness, aching pains around the ear, facial pain, lockjaw, and more. Medications, physical therapy, and even surgery can relieve TMJ symptoms, but some of these approaches carry their own set of risks. However, recent studies indicate the potential benefits of acupuncture therapy for relieving painful TMJ symptoms.
Prevalence and Causes of TMJ Syndrome
Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) affects an estimated 10 percent of the population, with 30-year-old women the most likely to be affected. Sometimes, TMJ disorders trace back to a clear cause, such as disc erosion or misalignment, damage to joint cartilage due to arthritis, or damage from sudden impact. However, many cases of TMJ disorder do not have clear causes. Risk factors that may cause some individuals to be at greater risk of developing TMJ include jaw injuries, long-term teeth grinding, and arthritis.
Current Treatment Options for TMJ Syndrome and Their Risks
As TMJ causes vary widely, there is no standard consensus within Western medicine as to how to address and treat those experiencing TMJ symptoms. Depending on the nature of the symptoms and the physician’s approach, a patient may receive pharmacological therapy, physical therapy, cognitive therapy, or surgical intervention. Medications, such as pain relievers, tricyclic antidepressants, or muscle relaxants, may offer temporary relief, but they often carry unpleasant side effects. Although open-joint surgery may help, if the underlying issue is structural, the process involves several risks and should be considered carefully—usually after all other options have been exhausted.
Acupuncture Therapy May Offer Lasting Relief From TMJ Symptoms
Western medicine is slowly exploring the benefits of acupuncture therapy in relieving painful TMJ symptoms. Acupuncture may work by stimulation of nerves to reduce pain sensations, actively encouraging the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters that can dampen pain perception in the brain. A retrospective study on the safety and efficacy of acupuncture for treating TMD found that approximately 90 percent of participants experienced a “statistically significant pain alleviation.” Additionally, these acupuncture sessions helped patients manage mental stress and sleep quality—both of which can exacerbate TMJ symptoms. Another study concluded, “Our results indicate that conventional acupuncture therapy is effective in reducing the degree of pain in patients with TMD, especially those with myofascial pain symptoms.” While more comprehensive research is needed, these preliminary studies indicate that acupuncture may offer lasting and effective relief.
Inner Works Acupuncture offers customized acupuncture sessions that can help you find relief from painful symptoms. Call our Portland office today at (503) 227-2127 to schedule an appointment.