When you’re suffering from TMJ pain or a full-blown TM Joint Disorder (TMD), with its tangle of head, face, jaw, neck and shoulder pain, getting rid of that pain is always the first priority. Ideally, this is accompanied by treatment of what’s causing the pain so that it stops.
The easiest thing to do, of course, is to take drugs to mask the pain, but this measure is stop-gap at best, potentially expensive and not conducive to true health. Consequently, a good number of people opt not to go that route and instead turn to any number of nontoxic therapies for pain-reduction.
One of the most commonly used is acupuncture, which is the focus of a new study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. For it, researchers reviewed studies in four different databases, selecting only those studies published in scientific journals between 1997 and 2008 that used randomized controlled trials, acupuncture treatment and subjects with TMD of muscular origin. Four studies were found to be acceptable, and of those, three demonstrated “short-term improvement of TMD signs and symptoms of muscular origin.” The remaining study showed no significant difference between acupuncture and sham treatment.
These are promising results, but of course limited, both in terms of understanding acupuncture’s long-term effects and the relative lack of research.
Clearly, more work needs to be done in this area, even as other research continues to provide evidence that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for all sorts of pain.
For instance, another recent meta-analysis – this one published in Pain Practice – reviewed eight eligible studies published between 2003 and 2008 on acupuncture for chronic pain. The authors found that
For short-term outcomes, acupuncture showed significant superiority over sham for back pain, knee pain, and headache. For longer-term outcomes (6 to12 months), acupuncture was significantly more effective for knee pain and tension-type headache but inconsistent for back pain (one positive and one inconclusive). In general, effect sizes (standardized mean differences) were found to be relatively small.
Thus, they conclude that, “The accumulating evidence from recent reviews suggests that acupuncture is more than a placebo for commonly occurring chronic pain conditions. If this conclusion is correct, then we ask the question: is it now time to shift research priorities away from asking placebo-related questions and shift toward asking more practical questions…?”
In light of this, as well as other exciting research showing the effects of acupuncture on the brain – specifically, those areas that process pain – we say, “Absolutely.”