Muscle relaxants for TMJ issues are appropriate in certain situations, but natural remedies should also be considered.
Because the muscles surrounding the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) are often hyperactive in TMJ disorders, medical professionals have tried using muscle relaxants to relieve TMJ pain with varied success. Muscle relaxants decrease muscle spasticity by suppressing motor neuron firing in the central nervous system. However, as with all medications, muscle relaxants have side effects and they don’t always work. For this reason, it’s important to consider natural muscle relaxing strategies as an alternative to taking medication.
Why Use Muscle Relaxants for TMJ?
Myofascial temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) are those that involve the jaw muscles, as opposed to the joint itself. With these disorders, the jaw tension and muscle hyperactivity are prominent. While the mechanisms of myofascial pain are only partially understood, it’s clear that jaw muscle hyperactivity plays a role.
“Muscle hyperactivity in TMJ disorders may be a dysfunctional adaptation of the guarding reflex seen in other acute muscle injuries. The hope is that by relaxing tense jaw muscles by any number of means, this aspect of TMJ pain can be relieved”, explains Bradley Eli, DMD, MS, a specialist in orofacial pain and TMJ disorders.
Other symptoms associated with myofascial TMDs include:
The use of muscle relaxants for TMJ disorders involving the jaw muscles has been investigated in several studies. A 2018 article in the journal Evidence Based Dentistry reviewed multiple studies that used muscle relaxants. The researchers found that muscle relaxant medications do appear to have a positive treatment effect when used to treat muscle-related TMJ pain. This was not the case when they were used to treat joint-related TMJ pain.
How Do Muscle Relaxants Work?
Muscle relaxants are sometimes called “spasmolytics” because they decrease muscle spasticity. They are considered second-line agents in clinical contexts where muscle spasm contributes to pain, such as low back pain, musculoskeletal trauma, and TMJ disorders. They are usually used in an acute setting (i.e. within 2 weeks of injury) and only for short periods of time.
The exact mechanism of action of muscle relaxants is unclear, but it is believed that they work in the central nervous system to decrease the signaling intensity of motor neurons (the nerves that connect your brain to your muscles).
Here are the most common drugs in this class, along with their brand names:
Carisoprodol – Soma
Cyclobenzaprine – Flexeril
Metaxalone – Skelaxin
Methocarbamol – Robaxin
Tizanidine – Zanaflex
As with most medications, there are several side effects that you should be aware of before taking them. Here are some of the most common:
Perhaps the biggest drawback to using this class of drugs is that they have shown to be addictive. For more information on side effects, drug interactions, and other prescribing information, please consult your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
Natural Remedies for Jaw Tension
There are several non-pharmacological ways to treat the jaw muscle tension of myofascial TMDs. For instance, some people have had success using acupuncture as a treatment for jaw tension. Other natural self-care measures to treat jaw tension include:
Intraoral splints: Intraoral splints help brace the jaw in much the same way that an ace bandage is used for an ankle sprain. The preferred splint for jaw clenching is an anterior bite splint (such as the QuickSplint®) because it completely disinhibits contact of the posterior teeth. This provides rapid and powerful relief from jaw muscle tension and guarding.
Thermotherapy: Heat therapy (thermotherapy) relieves TMJ pain by increasing tissue extensibility, decreasing local muscle pain, and relaxing tense muscles.
Physical Therapy: Gentle exercises can increase the jaw range of motion and help relieve pain. Jaw physical therapy is considered to be a front-line therapy for jaw injuries and is consistently effective in relieving jaw pain.
These natural remedies for relieving TMJ pain are part of the Speed2Treat Home Healing Kit, a comprehensive self-care kit for jaw pain. It includes the QuickSplint®, which is an FDA-cleared custom anterior bite splint that you can fashion and use on the same day of delivery.
Self-directed care is the cornerstone of TMJ management. With the natural approach of the Home Healing Kit, there are no side effects, no risk of addiction, no appointments, and you can start treatment right away. Start your journey towards jaw pain relief today with the Home Healing Kit!