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  • Donna Nield L.Ac., MSTOM

Treating TMJD, Upper Back and Neck Pain with Acupuncture

Updated: Oct 24, 2019


After the dank summer heat we’re all ready for Fall, but for most of us that nip in the air signals a return to more sedentary pursuits. We start eating lunch at the desk, instead of taking a walk and school is back in session, putting a whole new group of us back inside - sitting, typing, and reading.


All that desk and screen time can lead to a rash of muscular issues, from sore necks and backs to flare ups of recurring conditions like TMJ disorder. Poor posture (or more likely, poor ergonomic design) leads to muscles tightening and shortening. One muscle group may bunch up and soon others are affected as well. The lower back and jaw might not seem directly connected, but, physiologically the line between the two is very, very short!


At East Village Acupuncture & Massage, we treat these muscular imbalances with different strategies, depending on your unique situation. In general, though, we frequently employ trigger point acupuncture, e-stim acupuncture, and cupping to promote relaxation and healing in the affected muscles.


Various studies over the last 10-15 years have shown that acupuncture relieves the pain associated with TMJ disorder. Both trigger point and e-stim can provide a lot of relief, both in real time and to prevent future flare ups. By stimulating the muscle, the body releases chemicals which act as a natural healer, and can “retrain” the muscle fibers themselves not to revert to constant activation (knots, otherwise known to us as trigger points).


While acupuncture can’t address the underlying causes of TMJD, keeping the muscles relaxed lessens the pain and frequency of occurrences. Please note, however, that acupuncture treatment doesn’t strictly target the muscles in the jaw and face. Traditional Chinese Medicine provides a guide that extends throughout the body. Western medicine wouldn’t draw a connection between muscles in the foot and jaw, but an acupuncturist might.


Cupping, using special “cups” to create suction on the skin, similarly helps relieve back, shoulder, and neck tightness. The procedure improves blood flow into the targeted area, promoting recovery and healing. Olympic athletes use it to help their bodies perform at peak levels, but it provides a wealth of benefits for the rest of us too.


By now, most people know that sitting for too long can have a negative effect on your health. But, it’s pretty easy to get so deep in your work that you don’t notice the time. To combat that, try setting a timer every hour. When it goes off, get up and move around for at least two minutes. Take a few deep cleansing breathes and stretch. When you return to your seat, make sure to pay attention to your posture. Keep your shoulders back, sit up straight, and keep your hips back in the chair. If possible, try to mix in periods of standing while working: at least 15 minutes an hour, although 20-30 minutes has been shown to be even more beneficial. Just being mindful of the small things can head off a lot of unnecessary pain.


Traditional Chinese Medicine also teaches that too much sitting and thinking have a negative effect on digestion. Make sure to work warm, cooked foods into your diet when you’ve been at your desk for long periods. A salad for lunch is certainly sensible, but so is a nice veggie loaded stir fry. Trade in that smoothie for a nice cup of bone broth. If you’re set on having that caprese salad, add a small cup of soup with it as well.


When those muscles invariably get tight from working hard, listen to your body! It may just need more attention after a tough work week (or several). Give them some proactive love before you have to contend with spasms or TMJ headaches. Come see us at EVAM and we’ll soothe the flare up and get you back in fighting shape again.

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