TMJ is an abbreviation that many people use for disorders that affect the temporomandibular joint and the muscles that control your jaw movement. The temporomandibular joint is situated on both sides of your head in front of your ears, where your lower jawbone meets your skull. Overuse, often caused by bruxism, stress, or teeth grinding, can lead to pain and inflammation in this joint. Here’s how you can tell if you’re suffering from TMJ and how to perform a TMJ massage to reduce your pain.

Do I have TMJ? 

Temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD is more commonly referred to as simply TMJ after the joint itself. This is the joint that connects your mandible, or lower jaw, to your skull just under your ears. Problems with this joint or the muscles in the face can lead to pain in this area. An injury that affects the lower jaw, such as whiplash, can be one cause as well as grinding of the teeth, the soft cushion in the joint moving, arthritis, or stress.

The major symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Jaw pain or stiffness
  • Difficulty or discomfort while chewing
  • Popping, clicking, or grating sounds with jaw movement, which may or may not be painful
  • Locking of the jaw that makes it difficult to open or close the mouth

People may also experience symptoms that appear to be totally unrelated to the jaw, but are actually related. These symptoms can include:

  • TMJ headaches (over the eye, in the temples, behind the eyes, and at the base of the skull)
  • Facial pain and swelling
  • TMJ ear pain and other symptoms, including ringing, buzzing, and congestion
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Difficulty opening the mouth wide
  • Tired facial muscles
  • Trouble chewing or pain while chewing
  • Top and bottom teeth not fitting together properly

While you may experience multiple signs or symptoms of TMJ, it’s not uncommon to exhibit a single symptom like earache or headaches.

How many people suffer from TMJ?

TMJ is more common for women than men and seems to affect more people between the ages of 20 and 40. The condition causes extreme discomfort and pain that can become chronic if not addressed.

According to the dental division of the National Institutes of Health, it is unknown how many people actually suffer from TMJ. It is believed that it affects over ten million people in the United States. Many of the cases go unreported as it is considered a minor nuisance rather than an extreme chronic pain condition and people who experience some of the more minor symptoms may choose to ignore it.

For patients who do experience extreme pain and discomfort from the effects of TMJ, there are some non-invasive techniques that can provide relief.

Do I have TMJ headaches?

Many TMJ sufferers will experience headaches. If you clench or grind your jaw, an overactive temporalis muscle may give rise to pain and tension, particularly in the temples. This headache can also radiate outwards and give rise to a sensation that can feel like your head being held in a ‘vice-like grip.’

You may also experience a dull, achy, throbbing headache that’s present on waking in the morning or that increases as the day progresses.

Likewise, TMJ pain can be a trigger for migraines. It may also lead to chronic headaches in a patient with a prior history of migraines or headaches. Migraine headaches will often radiate to the face, jaw, and even the teeth. These headaches are characterized by hypersensitivity to light, sound and smells. Generally these patients will go to a quiet dark room and prefer to sleep. There may be associated nausea and even vomiting.

What causes TMJ disorders?

TMJ disorders may relate to:

  • Tooth clenching and grinding, known as bruxism
  • Head and neck muscle tension, often stress-related
  • Jaw injuries or trauma
  • Joint diseases, like arthritis

How do TMJ massages help?

Massage is a great solution for a number of problems. It can be relaxing and help reduce stress. It can work the kinks out of painful muscles. Every part of an appointment with a massage therapist is designed to provide a restorative experience. Some will even utilize aromatherapy to help the body respond to the muscle work. You can simply get comfortable and let the professionals do their work.

Massage therapy works by targeting trigger points along the body. These are what we often refer to as knots when we are experiencing aches and pains. By putting pressure on these points it can relieve the pain the patient is experiencing.

For jaw pain, the targeted muscle is called the masseter muscle. It is the muscle that you use primarily for chewing that is located on the sides of your face. When it is tight, from stress or injury, it can contribute to TMJ pain as well as the grinding of teeth. Releasing the tension in this muscle with a TMJ can be one of the remedies to help alleviate these problems.

Of course the most relaxing way to alleviate tension in your facial muscles is to make an appointment with a skilled massage therapist. Contact specialists in your area who are trained not only in general massage but also in facial massage to work with you and your TMJ symptoms.

How to perform a TMJ massage yourself

There is even better news when it comes to TMJ relief: self-massage can be just as effective as professional massage and can be concentrated on the area requiring pain relief. All it takes is some time to understand how to effectively place pressure on the correct trigger areas.

Professional massage therapist Andrea Turner offers these tips on her website:

  • Imagine yourself in a family portrait and place a loose fist under your jaw
  • Gently open your mouth to apply light pressure on your jaw
  • Count to seven silently
  • Relax your jaw and count to three
  • Repeat three times

She does indicate that this is a temporary fix and that you should seek care from a professional to help you with more permanent solutions, such as mouth guards to prevent recurring pain in the jaw.

Of course the masseter muscle isn’t the only contributor to pain associated with TMJ. There is a corresponding muscle in the upper part of your skull that also connects to the jawbone. This is known as the temporal muscle. This may be one of the reasons headaches are a common symptom of TMJ. When you have a headache, you may find yourself rubbing your temples to gain some relief, which is a natural response to head pain and surprisingly effective.

TMJ massage videos

Sometimes, a video can help immeasurably. Thankfully there are many great options that show how to perform a TMJ massage.

This video from You Tube user Massage By Heather provides detailed directions to help reduce the tension in your jaw and facial muscles to alleviate pain from TMJ.


Another great TMJ massage video from two physical therapists shows some quick massages you can do to release pressure and tension.


Another video, by Massage Sloth, shares that opinion and provides a demonstration of myofascial release. This is the technique that professional massage therapists will use for their patients who are dealing with the painful effects of TMJ.

What you can do

The first step to tackling the pain you’re feeling is to get a proper diagnosis. Talk to a pain specialist or a facial specialist to better understand if the symptoms you’re experiencing are related to TMJ. If so, talk to them about treatments such as a TMJ massage. In many cases you may even get a prescription for the sessions that can be paid for in part by your insurance company. Learning other stress-relieving techniques will also be critical in solving the puzzle of TMJ pain in your life.

Once you have a proper diagnosis, we recommend that you work with a professional massage therapists who will help you better understand some of the self-massage techniques that you can use at home. With this combination you can find relief from the facial pain caused by TMJ.

If you’re suffering from severe TMJ pain, there are other treatments that can help. Mouth guards, physical therapy, medications, or even surgery may help with your case. You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: They can help diagnose the cause of your pain and suggest treatments that work.

Find Your Pain Doctor


Weekly updates on conditions, treatments, and news about everything happening inside pain medicine.

You have Successfully Subscribed!