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One well-researched and documented benefit of massage therapy is its ability to boost of the body’s own defense against disease – the immune system. Good health depends on a well-functioning immune system. But many suffer such severe impairment of their immune systems that the body’s own defense system actually turns on their own bodies and becomes the cause rather than the prevention of disease.
What Are Autoimmune Diseases?
There is a wide range—between eighty and one-hundred-twenty conditions— known generally as autoimmune disease. These include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, and possibly even fibromyalgia. An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from some form of autoimmune disease, or one-sixth of the population, including children, adults and the elderly. Women represent 75 percent of those affected. Causes include viruses such as Epstein-Barr, Coxsackievirus B and Herpes Simplex, as well as some bacteria and protozoa. Environmental conditions also can contribute.
Clinically speaking, an autoimmune disease is a breakdown of self-tolerance, the body’s ability to distinguish its own cells from foreign invaders—antigens and pathogens. The body attacks its own cells because of an inability of white blood cells to read protein markers upon cell membranes.
TMJ: Just a Symptom
The problem may be, however, that TMJ is only a symptom itself. TMJ is often a secondary or tertiary manifestation of another problem somewhere else in the body. While it’s well-known that chronic stress may cause a range of health problems, stress has not been thoroughly considered as the root of TMJ problems, and little research has been done so far to establish stress as a cause of TMJ. That is odd. Because one of the clearest physical signs of stress is clenching one’s teeth. “Grit your teeth” is a phrase we hear when we are being encouraged to endure something stressful and difficult.
Massage and TMJ
So how can massage address TMJ? Craniosacral massage is a modality that involves the gentle manipulation and normalization of the cranial bones, and that may be a solution. But many of the muscles implicated stress-created conditions are not in the head or neck. In fact, massage starting at the floor of the pelvis—from the sacrum on up— may be most effective. Jaw muscles also extend below the clavicle and connect directly to points near the trapezius and other back muscles. When dealing with TMJ syndrome, therefore, many craniosacral technicians will work on other parts of the body as well.
So while a premium massage chair obviously cannot work inside the mouth like a craniosacral masseuse, it can certainly ease the aches and pains and the accompanying biochemical triggers activated by stress elsewhere. The sheer comfort of sitting down and relaxing into a massage may help release tension in the jaw.
If you or someone you know is suffering from TMJ, don’t neglect to look at the bigger picture. Taking care of stress that affects the whole body may be the answer. And a premium massage chair may be just the right tool.
“Understanding Autoimmune Diseases and How the Bodywork Therapist May Help.” CenterPoint Massage Shiatsu Therapy School and Clinic, 13 Apr. 2018, www.centerpointmn.com/understanding-autoimmune-diseases-bodywork-therapist-may-help/
Gialelis, Jimmy. “Autoimmune Disease: A Breakdown of Self-Tolerance.” MASSAGE Magazine, Massage Magazine, 20 Apr. 2017, www.massagemag.com/autoimmune-disease-breakdown-self-tolerance-44558/.
Laird, Eileen. “Is Massage Therapy Beneficial for People with Autoimmune Disease?” Phoenix Helix, 4 Mar. 2018, www.phoenixhelix.com/2016/04/16/is-massage-therapy-beneficial-for-people-with-autoimmune-disease/