Myofascial Trigger Point Release Therapy: What It Is & How It Can Help with TMJ Disorders (TMD)

When you have a TMJ disorder (TMD) that flares up, your immediate wish is for the pain to stop. Certainly, pain relief is important. But treating TMD effectively means relieving pain and restoring function for the long term.

This requires a multifaceted approach, incorporating a variety of therapies that address the patient’s unique needs.

Some of those therapies may be familiar to you, such as splint therapy and laser acupuncture. Others, such as ultrasound therapy, may be somewhat familiar. One you might not know at all is myofascial trigger point release therapy (MTPRT).

Breaking down the name can help you understand what this treatment is all about, starting with the word “myofascial.” “Myo” means muscles, while “fascial” refers to the connective tissue that surrounds and supports them, the fascia. A trigger point is a tight, painful knot in a muscle.

Myofascial trigger point release therapy, then, aims to loosen those knots and reduce pain. It’s done by applying specific pressure to tight spots in the jaw muscles to help them relax.

While Dr. Abdulla has consistently seen it help her patients, it’s important to know that there’s scientific support for the therapy, too. For instance, one study of manual therapies like MTPRT found that patients who received it, along with home physical therapy, had significantly less pain and could open their mouths wider than they could before treatment.

A 2015 review of research on manual therapies analyzed data from 8 relevant studies, 7 of which were determined to be “of high methodological quality.” Together, they showed that

Myofascial release and massage techniques applied on the masticatory muscles are more effective than control…[and] as effective as toxin botulinum [Botox] injections (moderate evidence).

Overall, the authors found that “there is moderate-to-high evidence that MT techniques protocols are effective” in reducing pain and improving the ability to open the mouth wide.

A more recent review analyzed 20 studies that looked at a variety of non-invasive TMD treatments – not just myofascial trigger point release therapy but also things like ultrasound, laser, and splint therapy.

The systematic analysis revealed that while certain treatments such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and low-level laser therapy showed limited efficacy, combination therapies, especially those involving manual therapy, counseling, and splint therapy, demonstrated substantial improvement in reducing pain, depression, and anxiety. [emphasis added]

The latter two issues are especially common in patients living with TMD.

Importantly, the study confirms the efficacy of the patient-centered, non- and minimally-invasive approach we take right here in our Laguna Hills office. No single therapy is a silver bullet for difficult and complex conditions such as TMJ disorders. Rather, the patient’s individual needs should be the guide to developing a custom treatment plan that combines therapeutic methods for long term relief.

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