TMJ refers to a condition of the temporomandibular joint. It can also refer to the temporomandibular joint itself. The disorder of the TMJ disorder is a common condition and it is caused by an articular displacement in the jaw.
The condition TMJ pertains to a joint disorder. This joint connects the skull to the mandible (jaw). A TMJ disorder can bring about a number of symptoms including a ringing in the ears; ear pain; headaches; popping or clicking sounds in the joint of the jaw; locking of the jaw; difficulty in opening the mouth comfortably; and myofascial pain. The pain has the tendency to radiate to the shoulders and neck.
Some causes for TMJ include bruxism (grinding or clenching the teeth), gum chewing and other repetitive jaw joint movements, overstretching the jaw during surgical or dental procedures, or injury. A link between certain autoimmune diseases and TMJ is suspected. Among patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, more than half also suffer from TMJ.
The NIH (National Institutes of Health) believes that there over 25 million Americans who suffer all or some of these symptoms. Women seem to be more at risk than men although both genders can suffer from the condition. Treatments for TMJ used by Western medicine physicians include oral splints, anti-inflammatory medications and surgical correction (in 5% to 10% of sufferers).
The NIH, in 1997, set up a committee of pain doctors who concluded that acupuncture is an acceptable alternative or useful adjunct treatment for TMJ. Nowadays, this treatment is one the most commonly used and highly successful therapies for TMJ.
The fundamental principle behind acupuncture is that a life energy known as qi exists that circulates throughout the body like blood on certain energy vessels known as meridians. When a blockage develops on one of these channels, health conditions arise. By sticking a hair thin acupuncture needle into a selected point where underneath a meridian lies, the needle stimulates the meridian to restore the smooth flow energy which results in the healing of sickness and the relief of pain. The body has twenty documented meridians, four of which is connected directly to the TMJ.
There are acupuncturists who opt to insert needles locally in the site where the pain is felt. These points are located along the jaw or around the ear. This is just one way to treat TMJ symptoms. But since the meridian system is quite a complex system, there are many inter-connecting pathways and links between meridians that make local needling stimulation unneeded.
The acupoints on the knees, elbows, and big toe are some of the most powerful acupoints for treating TMJ. When stimulated, these distal points tend to produce immediate effects and results which the patient can feel within minutes of needle insertion. The patient can feel a greater range of motion and less pain in his/her TMJ. If your issue is bruxism, your acupuncturist may need to stimulate the experience point found in the lower leg to treat the bruxism.
Relief will vary between patients after the needles are taken out. For chronic or longstanding TMJ cases, several treatments may be needed. Acupuncturists usually attach small pin-like seeds to the lobe of your ear that have specific acupoints indirectly and directly linked to the TMJ jaw. When pressure (using your fingers) is applied to the seeds, the patient can extend the benefits of the previous acupuncture session which can endure till the next session.
Disease and pain is categorized by Chinese medicine in terms of the imbalance of the patient’s qi. This imbalance can either be due to a deficiency or excess, or a combination of both. Your acupuncturist has to collect information relating to the development of your condition, question you on what factors tend to alleviate or worsen your symptoms, evaluate all the functions of your body, take your pulses (there are 6), and physically examine your tongue. This will help identify the disharmony pattern between the meridians and their related organs.
Besides the insertion of needles into acupoints to treat the TMJ symptoms, extra needles may be inserted to address the underlying root of the condition. This unique customized approach to healing means that acupuncturists can see ten TMJ patients and treat each one in a slightly or totally different manner, based on their Chinese medical diagnosis. In several instances herbal remedies may be included in the treatment.
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