Clinical Research Shows Acupuncture Eases Temporomandibular Disorders

Acupuncture is a natural therapy long used to relieve pain and stiffness associated with temporomandibular disorders (TMD). 

Recent clinical research shows that acupuncture is effective at reducing pain and stiffness associated with temporomandibular disorders (TMD). 

As a doctor of acupuncture I have helped many patients reduce the tension and pain with TMD. In this article, I will explain how acupuncture approaches TMD and explain the clinical trials that show that it works. 

Causes and Symptoms of TMD

Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) refer to a collection of conditions affecting the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), muscles involved in jaw movement, and surrounding tissues. The exact causes of TMD may include injury, bruxism (Teeth Grinding), joint dislocation, muscular tension or spasm, or dental issues

The symptoms of TMD can include jaw pain or tenderness, jaw clicking or popping, restricted jaw movement, headaches and earaches facial pain or swelling, neck and shoulder pain, and tooth sensitivity

acupuncture on hand

Acupuncture for TMD

Acupuncture is a natural treatment used for thousands of years for joint pain and stiffness by targeting the underlying imbalances which are causing the discomfort.

The imbalances for TMD are often associated with lack of circulation of Qi, the body’s energy.  Qi circulates in meridians that connect the body.  When there is too much stress or trauma and Qi gets stuck.  This is called stagnation

Acupuncture stimulates the circulation of the qi and opens the meridians to correct this imbalance. 

Physiologically, acupuncture has also been shown to reduce inflammation, muscle tension, and stimulate the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters, alleviating pain and promoting relaxation. 

The benefits of acupuncture for TMD include pain relief, reduced muscle tension, and improved joint function, as well as reduced stress and anxiety.  Beyond the jaw, acupuncture helps patients achieve better overall well-being, including improved sleep, digestion, and emotional health.

Clinical Study Shows Acupuncture Relieves TMD Pain and Stiffness

The recent randomized controlled trial showed that acupuncture was effective at reducing pain and stiffness in people with temporomandibular disorders (1). 

This study was a single-center, single-blind study with a total of 57 participants completing the trial. One group received real acupuncture and the other received sham acupuncture, 3 times per week for 4 weeks.  

The acupuncture points included: 

Bilateral stimulation of:

LI4 – GB34

Only on the affected-side:

SI19 – ST6 – ST7

acupuncture chart legs

Results

The trial demonstrated a clear advantage of real acupuncture over sham acupuncture in reducing TMD related pain. By the fourth week of treatment patients in the acupuncture group had significant pain reduction with 86.7% achieving a minimum 30% reduction compared to 43.3% in the sham group. At a week 8 follow up the pain levels remained significantly lower in the acupuncture group than in the sham group showing sustained pain relief. 

Real acupuncture also showed a notable impact on jaw functionality including pain-free jaw opening, maximum unassisted jaw opening, as well as protrusion and lateral movements. 

In addition to physical improvements, real acupuncture brought about significant psychological and sleep-related benefits. Participants receiving real acupuncture reported considerable reductions in depression, anxiety, and stress levels based on their DASS-21 scores. Real acupuncture recipients also saw improvements in sleep quality, with notable reductions in insomnia severity, sleep latency, and daytime dysfunction.

acupuncture on foot

These results confirm the multifaceted benefits of acupuncture, not just in pain relief but in enhancing overall quality of life for TMD patients. This study shows a clear improvement from acupuncture and I hope it inspires larger trials to further show the potential benefits of the therapy. 

Feel Better, Get Acupuncture!

Acupuncture has long been used for treating pain and stiffness associated with TMD.  The findings from this randomized controlled trial supports the use of acupuncture for those suffering from TMD. The therapy can offer significant relief for those struggling with jaw pain, restricted movement, and psychological distress. 

I have seen acupuncture not only helped patients achieve better pain relief, but also improved quality of life and decreased stress associated with the condition. In the clinic we will often combine acupuncture with other therapies such as tuina and cupping to provide substantial and long lasting relief. 

Please call us at 212.319.5757 to make an appointment. You can also make an appointment online.  

References: 

  1. Liu L, Chen Q, Lyu T, et al. Effect of acupuncture for temporomandibular disorders: a randomized clinical trial. QJM. Published online May 6, 2024. doi:10.1093/qjmed/hcae094
Joseph Alban

Joseph Alban, L.Ac.

Joseph Alban is a Doctor of Acupuncture, New York Licensed Acupuncturist, and NCCAOM Board Certified Herbalist providing the highest quality Acupuncture and Chinese medicine care tailored to your needs.

you might also be interested