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Treating TMJ with trigger point dry needling physical therapy

Recently I posted a video on Instagram of getting my face dry needled in an effort to treat my jaw pain and the response was overwhelming. I didn’t realize how many people experience jaw pain and how many people were shocked to know physical therapists could provide relief. I began asking more and more of my own clients about their jaw pain and got similar feedback.

The temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint in your skull that allows your mouth to open, it is located just in front of your ears. The joint is also supported by a series of muscles, ligaments, cartilage and even a disc. It’s a complicated joint that can cause a whole range of problems from clicking, locking, headaches, neck pain and even just difficulty eating.



I began having jaw pain when I was in physical therapy school and could barely open my mouth. My dentist suggested I get a jaw replacement. It's even more shocking when you consider that at the time I was only 23 years old. Feeling outraged at this extreme measure, I did some research and discovered that my TMJ pain was mostly stress induced because I clench my jaw when I’m stressed. TMJ pain can usually be managed by physical therapists. I learned how to do trigger point release on the muscles of my face and voila! my mouth opened normally again!

I learned exercises and stretches that can help my jaw from locking up again, particluarly at Rose Physical Therapy because treating TMJ is a specialty ours. Of course, it didn't hurt that I was no longer a stressed-out grad student, and my lower stress and exercises have kept me mostly pain free. But every few months I notice the muscles around my jaw getting a little tight and after having a concussion a few months ago from a cycling accident, my jaw got really out of whack again (...that's the scientific terminology).

I now easily manage my symptoms with the help of dry needling. Dry needling is a standard treatment that every therapist at Rose Physical Thearpy uses because it can target and release muscles. We use a thin monofilament needle to elicit a change in myofascial restrictions by eliciting a twitch response in the muscle. This twitch is associated with improved flexibility and circulation in a muscle and creates reduction of pain. Getting your face needled is not comfortable within the moment that the needle is poking you, but afterward I have instant relief from whatever muscle pain I was experiencing in my jaw. The initial needling soreness wears off very quickly as well, for me in just a few hours. The price of a little discomfort form dry needling is easily 

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Dry needling to muscles in the face is a specific skill that takes quite a lot of training to develop, and for this reason facial needling is a sub-specialty reserved for only a few physical therapists here in Washington, DC. For those suffering from pain in the facial architecture, not just the TMJ but other muscles of the face, the ability to dry needle those muscles has opened up a whole new pain free option for their lives. Dry needling at Rose has certainly helped my life.

Just as a bit of personal perspective, one perk of working at Rose is that we can schedule free full one-hour, one-on-one treatment sessions from our coworker physical thearpists--it's a big perk to know what you need and also get expert help! But that same expertise is available to you every day here at Rose, so if you are experiencing discomfort, please don't just live with it--give us a call so we can start working to get to the bottom of the issues. Helping you live a pain free life is our passion.

And if you are wondering, I do get dry needling on both sides, both TMJs on my jaw.

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