The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a large sliding hinge within your jaw, often overlooked until it brings about discomfort. Inflammation in the TMJ can lead to considerable discomfort, severely affecting jaw movements like eating and talking. This condition is commonly termed “TMJ syndrome,” “TMJ dysfunction,” or simply “TMJ.”
Research suggests that acupuncture can suppress the pain neurons (nociceptive trigeminal nucleus caudalis and spinal dorsal horn neurons) related to the TMJ through regulation of neurotransmitters. Through direct stimulation of the nerve, the modulation of chemicals and signals in the body helps block pain perception of the brain and reduce pain sensation.
Acupuncture is additionally found to relax muscles that may be placing an improper amount of force on the meniscus of the TMJ. By targeting specific acupuncture points, this practice helps alleviate muscle tension and imbalance that could otherwise strain the delicate structure of the TMJ’s meniscus. This relief from muscular tension not only eases discomfort but also plays a crucial role in restoring the natural balance and function of the temporomandibular joint.
Acupuncture stands out as a unique method for not only alleviating the pain linked to TMJ dysfunction but also for addressing its underlying cause. Stress often resides within the muscles surrounding the jaw, contributing to TMJ issues. Acupuncture offers a promising avenue by effectively relaxing these muscles, providing relief from the stress they hold. This dual approach not only tackles the immediate discomfort but also targets the fundamental source of TMJ dysfunction, offering a comprehensive way to manage and alleviate its effects.
Addressing the root cause of TMJ dysfunction is crucial, yet it’s equally important to pay attention to the pain it causes. Numerous studies highlight acupuncture as an effective approach in alleviating TMJ-related discomfort and pain.
A single-blind randomized controlled clinical study in 2007 measured the effect of acupuncture on pain responses in TMJ-related muscle pain. The researchers assigned 15 patients randomly to either receive acupuncture or sham acupuncture after clenching their teeth for 2 minutes.
After each session, pain was evaluated on an 11-point numeric rating scale, visual analog scale, and pain rating of mechanical pressure on the masseter muscle. While the sample size of the study was small, the acupuncture produced a statistically significant reduction in face pain, neck pain, and headache when compared to sham acupuncture.
While the original study was a randomized controlled study, the follow-up study only questioned those who had received the treatment. For follow up studies, it is difficult to include the participants in the control group because typically those participants seek treatment after the trial.
Before treatment, 87% of participants had severe TMJ disorder symptoms. After either or both treatments, only 38% complained of severe symptoms at the follow-up. The majority of patients reported similar reductions in specific symptoms such as headache prevalence.
Contemporary approaches to TMJ dysfunction typically involve treatments like jaw appliance therapy or surgery. However, acupuncture emerges as a notably less invasive alternative that can complement or stand-alone alongside these conventional treatments.
Furthermore, as highlighted earlier, acupuncture offers additional support by potentially minimizing the necessity for pharmaceuticals such as NSAIDs and opioids, allowing patients to explore more holistic avenues for managing TMJ discomfort.
The self-care group included jaw strengthening exercises, stress management, and cognitive behavioral therapy. After 8 weeks, the participants in the traditional Chinese medicine group reported a significantly greater pain relief in comparison to the self-care group.
Both therapies provided significant reduction in pain and an increase in the range of mouth opening. Furthermore, this scientific study demonstrated that acupuncture could be just as effective as the conventional splint treatment.