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Laser Acupuncture Alleviates TMD / TMJ Pain

Laser acupuncture alleviates pain for patients with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain. The terms temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) are also often used. Additionally, you may see the condition referred to as temporomandibular joint dysfunction.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain and related symptoms are common conditions in the acupuncture clinic. The temporomandibular joints connect the lower jaw to the skull. TMJ is a blanket term we commonly hear to refer to a collection of joint-related symptoms that affect the face creating mild to severe discomfort. Technically, the TMJ is the anatomical structure, and temporomandibular joint disorder is the pathology.

Laser acupuncture employs the use of cold lasers and does not burn the skin or involve the use of needles. TMD disorders include structural abnormalities and muscular disorders of the temporomandibular joint region. TMD is a major cause of orofacial pain. Researchers demonstrate that noninvasive laser acupuncture therapy applied to acupuncture points on the face and hand significantly reduce pain levels.

The acupuncture laser therapy not only reduced pain levels but also improved range of motion. The maximal mouth opening demonstrated clinically significant improvements. There were no side effects. The researchers conclude that “TMD symptoms improved with LAT (laser acupuncture therapy).” The beneficial effects were in both acute and chronic patients with treatment-resistant temporomandibular disorders.

Researchers from China Medica University Hospital (Taiwan), Kaohsiung Medical University College of Medicine (Taiwan), et. al., note that laser acupuncture’s analgesic effects are “mediated by peripheral opioid receptors.” They add that low level cold laser therapy increases pain tolerances by inducing biological changes to cellular membranes. The researchers note other biological responses induced by low level laser therapy (LLLT) including vasodilation, increasing intracellular metabolism and decreasing edema. The researchers also cite important biomodulatory effects of LLLT; it “improves local microcirculation and oxygen supply to hypoxic cells in the painful areas…, tissue asphyxia is reduced…, it restores the normal physiological condition of the tissue.”

Low level laser acupuncture therapy was applied to patients three times per week for four weeks in this investigation. Protective goggles were worn by the practitioner and patient. Yangming channel acupuncture points were stimulated using pulsed waves:

  • ST7 (Xiaguan)

  • ST6 (Jiache)

  • LI4 (Hegu)

  • Ashi points

Five seconds of stimulation was applied to the stomach and large intestine Yangming points and forty seconds of LLLT stimulation was applied to each Ashi point. The researchers note that the treatment principle was based on the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concept that “pain results from blood stasis due to qi stagnation.” The goal was to “restore internal homeostasis” by restoring the “flow of qi and blood.”

TMD is a widespread illness that can be very painful and impacts the quality of life. Symptoms include facial pain, jaw clicking and popping, locking and catching of the jaw, decreased mouth opening and pain upon chewing. Other symptoms associated with TMD include headaches and neck pain. This study suggests that a simple, noninvasive application of laser acupuncture significantly benefits patients with treatment-resistant type TMD.

Reference: Hu, Wen-Long, Chih-Hao Chang, Yu-Chiang Hung, Ying-Jung Tseng, I-Ling Hung, and Sheng-Feng Hsu. "Laser Acupuncture Therapy in Patients with Treatment-Resistant Temporomandibular Disorders." PLOS ONE 9, no. 10 (2014): e110528.


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