Traditional Chinese Medicine & TMJ: An Acupuncturist Explains

by Eileen Mannion |

Traditional Chinese Medicine & TMJ: An Acupuncturist Explains

Jaw pain and "TMJ:" (temporomandibular joint) pain are both conditions that I see more frequently in my acupuncture clinic than I ever expected. Fortunately, acupuncture for TMJ pain is a very effective treatment helping to reduce the pain, inflammation and accompanying stress.

Do I Have TMJ Disorder?

TMJ disorder is just one cause of jaw pain, affecting the joint between the jaw and the skull. The most common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the jaw, ear or temple
  • Pain that is worse when you use your jaw
  • Difficulty opening the mouth fully
  • Popping, clicking or grinding when you use your jaw
  • Your jaw locking with use
  • Headaches, especially around the temples
What Are The Causes of Jaw & TMJ Pain?

This condition is frequently associated with:

  • Teeth grinding (or bruxism)
  • An overbite or underbite
  • Injury
  • Wear and tear
  • Emotional stress

These factors can lead to inflammation in the jaw, causing pain, swelling and stiffness.

Other possible causes of jaw pain include dental problems, nerve problems or arthritis. Some chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, MS, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease or lupus cans also cause jaw pain and you should make sure you have a proper check up with your doctor if you suspect any of these conditions.

A Chinese Medicine Explanation - It Starts with Stagnation

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, many causes of pain are caused by something referred to as “stagnation.”  Qi and Blood are two vital substances in Traditional Chinese Medicine and need to flow freely.

Free flow means no pain.When the flow is disrupted, either by sudden injury, overuse or emotional strain for example, pain results.

You may often hear an acupuncturist refer to this “stagnation,” sometimes in terms of physical symptoms, sometimes emotional and oftentimes both!

Acupuncture for TMJ Pain

Acupuncture benefits jaw pain and TMJ disorder in several ways. Acupuncture needles work to remove local stagnation and improve the circulation of Qi and Blood which relieves symptoms such as stiffness and locking.

A more Western explanation is that acupuncture can provide relief from jaw pain by:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Releasing endorphins, our natural painkillers
  • Improving blood flow
  • Setting up a local healing response

Acupuncture is also an extremely relaxing treatment. Therefore, if you suffer from stress, it can help you to unwind at the end of a busy day. When your mind relaxes, so does your body, allowing problems such as jaw clenching to simply melt away.

Acupuncture for TMJ pain can be effective but it is important to try and prevent the symptoms recurring. Here a re a few tips:

Visit the dentist regularly
Wear a mouthguard if you’re a grinder
Avoid hard and very chewy foods
Don’t bite your nails
Try and reduce stress
Be aware of your jaw, avoid resting your chin on your hands or yawning too widely.

Care Consideration: Just a reminder that the above information is not a substitute for medical care and is not a substitute for medical advice or recommendations  from a healthcare provider.  This information is not intended to treat, mitigate or cure any disease.  That said, we encourage you to connect with an Acupuncturist in your community to learn more about this and other Traditional Chinese Medicine options.  If you’ve got questions about Chinese herbal medicine or getting started with an Acupuncturist, feel free to connect with us on

Eileen Mannion has a passion for helping people overcome a wide variety of health issues, often things that they have become resigned to living with, and particular expertise in treating women's health with acupuncture and nutritional advice. Living and practicing in West Yorkshire, Eileen studied at Masters level and graduated from the Northern College of Acupuncture in York, and is a member of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC). You can learn more about Eileen at

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