Tens Machines for TMJ - Temporomandibular Joint Pain

By Tens Machine UK Content Team  .  Last Updated Friday, 8th September 2023

What is TMJ 

The term TMJ, short for temporomandibular joint, denotes the pivotal connection between your skull and jawbones.

The temporomandibular joint, pronounced as "tem-puh-roe-man-DIB-u-lur" joint (TMJ), functions as a sliding hinge, linking your jawbone with the cranial structure. Each individual possesses one such joint on either side of the jaw. TMJ disorders, classified under the broader category of temporomandibular disorders (TMD), precipitate discomfort within the jaw joint itself and the muscles governing jaw movement.

TMJ is also commonly employed to signify temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), a condition characterized by dysfunction within these joints. This dysfunction can manifest as pain, difficulties in chewing, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and challenges in opening or closing your mouth. Another prevalent consequence is the occurrence of clicking or locking of the jaw joint. Employing a TENS unit for TMJ management proves to be an efficacious treatment strategy.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS therapy) constitutes a modality of physical therapy tailored to address TMJ disorder. It serves to alleviate muscle tension within the jaw and mitigate the pain stemming from TMD. Tens for TMJ has become quite popular as an alternative treatment.

Identifying the precise cause of an individual's TMJ disorder frequently proves to be a challenging endeavor. Pain may arise from a confluence of factors, including genetic predisposition, arthritis, or previous jaw injuries. It's worth noting that some individuals who experience jaw pain may also have a propensity for teeth clenching or grinding (bruxism); however, not all habitual teeth clenchers or grinders develop TMJ disorders.

In the majority of instances, the pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorders are transient and amenable to self-care interventions or non-surgical treatments. Surgical intervention typically represents a final recourse after conservative approaches have yielded unsatisfactory results, although certain individuals grappling with TMJ disorders might derive benefit from surgical remedies.

How Tens can help those with TMJ

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) therapy is a method that effectively blocks pain signals en route to the brain, providing both relief and stress reduction, particularly beneficial for alleviating tension in the jaw. The foundation of TENS therapy lies in the Gate Control Theory, which posits that the brain's receptors cannot simultaneously process both painful and non-painful signals. In essence, the TENS unit activates non-painful inputs to the brain, effectively "closing the gate" for painful signals. Additionally, patients often experience a tingling sensation during treatment as the unit triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers.

Tens Electrode Placement for TMJ:

Strategic electrode pad placement is the initial step in the procedure, focusing primarily on the TMJ region. These pads are strategically positioned either directly on or in close proximity to the jaw joint, targeting areas of heightened pain.

TENS Stimulation Phase:

2. Following electrode placement, the TENS unit is activated to generate electrical pulses or waves. These pulses traverse through the electrode pads, permeating the skin and accessing the nerves and muscles underlying the jaw joint.

Tens Therapy:

3. TENS therapy operates in alignment with the Pain Gate Theory, which posits that pain signals to the brain can be disrupted by the introduction of non-painful stimuli. The electrical pulses emitted by the TENS unit serve as these non-painful stimuli, effectively closing the "pain gate" and diminishing pain perception in the TMJ region.

Natural Pain Relief Mechanism:

4. Simultaneously, the electrical stimulation triggers the release of endorphins, the body's innate pain-relieving chemicals. Endorphins play a pivotal role in pain mitigation, fostering a sense of relaxation and overall well-being. This substantially contributes to reducing TMJ pain and alleviating muscle tension associated with the condition.

Muscle Relaxation Benefits:

5. TMJ pain often results from muscular tension and spasms in the jaw area. The electrical currents administered by the TENS unit stimulate the muscles, promoting relaxation and diminishing spasmodic activity. By easing muscle tension, the TENS unit plays a pivotal role in relieving TMJ discomfort.

TMJ Symptoms

Common Signs and Symptoms of TMJ Disorders

TMJ disorders often manifest with a variety of signs and symptoms, which can include:

  • Jaw Pain and Tenderness: You may experience discomfort or tenderness in your jaw region.
  • Pain in Temporomandibular Joints: Pain can occur in one or both of the temporomandibular joints, situated on each side of your face.
  • Ear-Related Ache: Aching pain may radiate around your ear area.
  • Chewing Discomfort: Difficulties or pain during chewing can be a significant indicator.
  • Facial Pain: A persistent aching sensation in the facial region may be present.
  • Joint Locking: The joint may lock intermittently, making it challenging to fully open or close your mouth.

Additionally, TMJ disorders can lead to audible symptoms, such as a clicking sound or a sensation of grating when you open your mouth or chew. However, it's essential to note that if these auditory symptoms occur without accompanying pain or limited jaw movement, treatment for a TMJ disorder may not be necessary.

Understanding TMJ Dysfunction Causes

TMJ dysfunction does not typically stem from a single cause but rather arises from a combination of various factors. Potential causes of TMJ disorders include:

  • Jaw Injuries: Traumatic incidents, such as a broken or dislocated jaw.
  • Teeth Grinding or Clenching (Bruxism): Habitual grinding or clenching of teeth.
  • Arthritis in the Jaw Joint: Inflammatory conditions affecting the jaw joint.
  • Malocclusion: Misalignment of teeth, where they do not fit together correctly.
  • Stress: Emotional and physical stress can contribute to TMJ issues.

Aggravating Factors for TMJ Dysfunction

While some TMJ causes are beyond control, specific habits and behaviors can exacerbate TMD symptoms. These habits include:

  1. Using Teeth as Tools: Using your teeth for tasks like tearing clothing tags.
  2. Poor Posture: Maintaining improper posture can place undue strain on neck, shoulder, and facial muscles. We do have Posture Correctors available if this may interest you further. 
  3. Chewing on Inedible Objects: Habitually chewing on pens, pencils, or other non-food items.
  4. Chewing Habits: Excessive chewing of gum or chewing ice can intensify TMJ discomfort.
  5. Large Food Bites: Taking oversized bites of food can overtax jaw muscles.
  6. Daytime Teeth Clenching or Grinding (Bruxism): Unconscious clenching or grinding of teeth during the day.