How I Use Gua Sha To Relieve TMJ Pain And For Other Health Benefits
This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s fall editorial intern Hannah Yarrington. Find her on Instagram at @513hny. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Going on four years now, I have been suffering from tmj (which stands for temporomandibular joint) disorder. I first noticed a clicking that had developed on the right side of my jaw several years ago, quickly accompanied by jaw pain, headaches, and neck stiffness that never seemed to let up. TMJ is actually a relatively common disorder in America, and according to the UIC College of Dentistry, as much as 10 million people suffer from tmj. While I’ve been treated for my tmj off and on for years now, I do many things myself at home to relieve any lingering pain; one of those techniques is using gua sha for tmj.
What is gua sha?
Gua sha originated in China as a traditional healing method where you use a flat, smooth-edged stone or jade tool to stroke across the skin while applying pressure. WebMD describes how gua sha can be used all over the body to treat chronic pain, whether it be the neck, face, back, legs, etc., to improve blood flow to help lessen any toxins to promote a healing effect. Many people have typically heard about gua sha from TikTok, where many influencers often use it to reduce puffiness and improve lymphatic drainage within the facial and jaw area.
How I use gua sha for tmj
Since much of my pain resides in my face, I use techniques similar to those you have probably seen before; however, they are a bit modified to focus more on relieving pain. So, first, you will need to acquire a gua sha tool. You can find this just about anywhere, for example, Target, Walmart, Amazon, etc., depending on what you are able to access more easily. Face oil is also recommended so the tool can smoothly glide across your skin, but moisturizers and facial serums also work as well.
First, I will typically use the gua sha tool’s corner for kneading out any specific pain centers or knots in my jaw. Once I find a spot, I will apply gentle but firm pressure to the area while rolling small circles around it. These knots/pain areas typically occur in my temples, the masseter muscle, and, of course, the temporomandibular joint as well. Time-wise, I usually rub each spot depending on how it’s feeling, but generally, I do each area for about 3-5 minutes.
After that, I will usually follow up with some other exercises, one of which is where I will slightly open my jaw about an inch wide while taking the gua sha and pulling it down along the jaw muscle. Opening the mouth allows you to access more of the muscle, releasing more tension built up. I do about ten slow passes on each side of my jaw and then continue the motion down my neck, specifically on the sternocleidomastoid, which is the two main big muscles you’re usually able to feel in your neck.
How to use for neck/tension headaches
Much of the pain felt in the jaw stems from stiffness in the neck. As I mentioned earlier, I like to focus on the sternocleidomastoid, which also gets pretty tight along with my jaw. So, when using gua sha on the neck, not only does it help with lymphatic drainage, but it also helps to soften the muscles for better mobility and to reduce pain. I like first to use the end that has the U shape to pass down the muscle, stopping right above my collarbone. Then, I will go from the side and swipe it across my neck, slowly working my way down the sternocleidomastoid once again. I don’t usually do this a set number of times, but I do it until I start to feel the tension subside.
I am also prone to headaches right at the base of my skull, and gua sha can be helpful to use, especially when my hands get tired from massaging. Though correcting my posture is going to be the ultimate fix for this type of pain, I still do plenty of stretching and rubbing to get rid of tension headaches. So, as I did before with the knots in my jaw, I will just rub gentle circles or scrap up my head until the discomfort starts to leave while also increasing blood flow to improve my overall health.
These are just a few ways I have found gua sha for tmj to be a beneficial tool when it comes to relieving pain. Have you ever used gua sha before? What are your thoughts on the techniques? Let us know!