Drugs are hardly the only solution when it comes to TMJ pain. Take acupuncture, for instance.
New research in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies offers some new evidence that the therapy may provide at least temporary relief from TMJ problems by rebalancing the energy (Qi) along the meridians.
The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is a hinge for your jaw. There’s one on each side of your head. Injury, misalignment, and behaviors like bruxing can damage these joints and adjacent structures and cause them to work incorrectly.
Here’s how the TMJ functions normally:
Here’s how it looks in one type of dysfunction:
TMD can lead to ongoing problems with headaches and pain in the jaws, face, neck, and shoulders. You may have ringing in your ears or other hearing issues. You may feel toothache-like pain. You may have popping, clicking, or grating sounds when you chew. It can become hard to even open your mouth.
Suffice it to say, TMD is no fun.
But back to the study, in which 43 TMJ patients were separated into two groups. For four weeks, one group was treated with traditional acupuncture; the other, with sham acupuncture (no needle penetration). Meridian assessments were taken before and after each session.
Interestingly, both groups experienced less pain. Both groups experienced a decrease in Yang energy.
But only those who received real acupuncture maintained Yin energy levels over the course of the study. They were also more able to open their mouths on their own without pain.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Yin and Yang energies must be balanced to maintain good health.
Increasingly, the medical establishment is accepting acupuncture as a valid treatment for various forms of pain. In fact, earlier this year, the FDA gave it a preliminary endorsement for pain management.
On a similar note, the Joint Commission – a major medical accreditor – also now recognizes acupuncture as an effective stand-alone or combination treatment for TMD. According to commentary in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, this turnaround provides great opportunities for integrative pain treatment.
[Integrative clinicians can] use it to convince naysayers by showing them that the evidence behind these services and practitioners in pain treatment has been prevetted by a conservative organization that serves as medicine’s police force. Notably, the pharmacologic approaches are appropriately—if only for alphabetical reasons—listed prior to pharmaceuticals. Clearly these typically more high-touch, time-, and human-intensive approaches are not relegated to the past role of if all else fails, try acupuncture.
Of course, there are other therapies that can help, as well, in providing long-term relief from TMJ problems without drugs and without surgery. The key, as ever, is to identify the cause and address that through treatment suited to that specific cause. In some cases, that might be appliance therapy; in others, DTR; in others, neural prolotherapy.
One size seldom fits all.
Image by Mot