Using Reiki and Massage Therapy for TMJ:
How A Young Woman Got Her Life Back

By Laura Sadler, CMT

When Maggie arrived for her first massage therapy appointment three months ago, I asked her my usual questions. How was her health? What did she want to focus on in the massage? She was extremely thin but otherwise appeared in good health. Then Maggie explained to me what she'd been going through, and I was shocked.

A Problem of Complicated Proportions

She told me that she suffered from Temporomandibular Joint disorder (TMJ) and hadn't been able to eat solid food for months. Temporomandibular Joint disorders and diseases are characterized by pain in the jaw and associated muscles, limiting the range of movement normally required for speech, facial expression, eating, chewing, and swallowing.

Maggie had developed TMJ after undergoing an operation on her cervical spine. The surgeon had accessed the ruptured disc through the front of her neck and after the surgery her neck muscles began to spasm, ultimately manifesting the TMJ symptoms. Additional post-operative disorders appeared. Maggie experienced ringing in her ears (a condition known as Tinnitus) and developed Mastoiditis, which produced such profound dizziness that she was unable to work or drive for more than a few minutes at a time.

Often resulting from the spread of an inner ear infection, Mastoiditis is an infection of the skull's mastoid bone that can cause the bone structure to deteriorate. Administering medicine deeply enough into the mastoid bone to take effect can prove tricky and as a result the condition can require repeated or long-term treatment. Symptoms include earache and pain behind the ear, redness, fever, headache, and discharge.

In Maggie's case, she was so dizzy that she felt seasick most of the time. The ringing in her ears made it impossible for her to sleep at night without the aid of sleeping pills or muscle relaxers. Additionally, she took drugs prescribed by her doctors to alleviate the dizziness and pain. But the side effects never outweighed the benefits of the medication and now she had a shoebox full of half-used pill bottles.

The Treatment

After listening to Maggie's story, I suggested that we try Reiki as part of her treatment. I explained that Reiki is a subtle yet powerful modality that can help alleviate stress, pain, and balance the body's energy. By means of a simple non-invasive technique, the Reiki practitioner acts as a conduit for healing energy that passes through his or her hands into the patient's body. Maggie had never heard of Reiki and was skeptical of energy work but agreed to try it out of desperation for some relief from her many ailments.

She had booked an hour-long massage with me, which I shortened to 45 minutes so I could spend the remaining 15 minutes performing Reiki on her ears and jaw. Because my office is only a few minutes from her apartment, Maggie had been able to drive to her appointment. Upon leaving my office after her first visit, she felt such improved clarity that she immediately drove downtown -- a good half hour drive -- and back. Since that day, Maggie has been able to drive herself around town without any dizziness.

After Maggie's second treatment, the Tinnitus in her right ear disappeared completely. She felt so good that she tried to eat solid food, an unfortunate mistake. It was too soon in the healing process, and her jaw locked.

As Maggie continued her therapy, her dizziness and Tinnitus continued to decrease significantly but Maggie's myofascial and jaw pain persisted. I increased her massage treatments to a full hour, extending the focus from her upper back and neck to include her scalp and entire face. I paid particular attention to the tiny muscles of her jaw, and I incorporated a technique called Stillpoint. I also found pressure points in her hips that eased jaw pain.

I also increased the Reiki therapy to thirty minutes to address the volume in her left ear, which remained very unstable and quite loud. Over time, I've developed visualizations for her to do during the Reiki sessions. I do the visualization at the same time with her and sometimes suggest color to help her visualize. She always has a decrease in volume when we do this. We've noticed that the volume level in her left ear is often triggered by stress. Although keeping Maggie's Tinnitus under control is a challenge, the levels almost never rise to a level that she experienced prior to beginning the Massage and Reiki Therapy.

The Root Cause

I noticed that Maggie's muscles had responded to her surgery similarly to the way that a muscle responds when someone breaks a bone -- except in her case, the muscles didn't know when it was 'okay' to relax again. When you break a bone, the muscles near that bone instantly contract to protect the bone and stabilize it. As the bone heals, the muscles relax and return to normal. I believe that if Maggie had received massage shortly after her surgery, the muscles would have relaxed more quickly and she possibly would have never developed TMJ. I think that the muscles in her neck and head were contracted for too long, and that may be how the jaw pulled out of the joint. I have no proof of this; it's just my theory.

Combining Treatments

One course of treatment for TMJ is to create a splint for the patient's mouth. The splint holds the jaw in place so that when the mouth opens, the disc won't be able slip, thus forcing the bones and muscles to align properly. Maggie had gotten a splint many months before she came to see me but it had been made incorrectly and she eventually stopped using it.

After nearly three months of Massage and Reiki Therapy, Maggie sought out a neuromuscular dentist who specialized in TMJ and had a splint made to properly fit her mouth. Her dentist was amazed that Maggie had managed to function so well without a splint. Since discontinuing use of her 'bad' splint, she had only received Massage and Reiki Therapy in conjunction with some physical therapy.

Maggie has also continued to see her various physicians for checkups. At one point the fluid build-up in her left ear caused an infection and the doctor drilled a hole in her eardrum to release the pressure. She received Reiki treatments afterwards and the hole healed in three weeks, half the amount of the time that it usually takes.

The Road Back to Health

Before Maggie turned to alternative medicine, her doctors implied that she might never be able to eat solid food again and would simply have to adjust to that and having Tinnitus for the rest of her life. Another obstacle Maggie faced was her doctors' disbelief when she described her pain and dizziness.

Her surgeon said that everything appeared to be normal and he didn't understand why she couldn't eat solid food. She tried again, but her jaw immediately locked. The doctors began to demand that she seek psychoanalysis and treatment for depression. Maggie feels that she is anything but depressed. Since she began addressing her problems with a program of Massage and Reiki, she has found that being able to do even the simplest of things actually brings her great joy. Beyond this, the Reiki treatments have enabled Maggie to cope with greater stresses and she no longer experiences major relapses with her predominant symptoms.

She still has a lot of healing to do before she'll be able to eat solid food again and live completely free of Tinnitus and pain. Yet after only a few months of regular Massage and Reiki Therapy, she has made dramatic progress in regaining her health and her life, progress that had previously eluded her. She is now able to drive longer distances and attend spinning classes, walk around the mall for an hour and generally function for up to six hours a day without experiencing any dizziness.

Whereas before she would isolate herself socially because long conversations sparked excruciating pain, Maggie can now entertain out-of-town friends for an entire weekend. The ringing in her right ear hasn't returned and the volume in her left ear has diminished to manageable levels. Her myofascial and joint pain have also lessened.

Identifying the source of her pain and addressing it with Massage Therapy while using Reiki to treat the accompanying ringing and dizziness have put Maggie on the road to recovery.

Laura Sadler is a Certified Massage Therapist and Reiki Master in Los Angeles. She also has a B.A. in Psychology from UC Irvine. Laura became a healing arts practitioner after living with chronic pain due to sports injuries. It was through her experiences in healing herself that she learned she has a special gift and true compassion for those dealing with pain or stress.