Pain Relief for TMJ

Chiropractic adjustments, cognitive behavioral therapy, even botox treatments are some of the ways people attempt to rid themselves of temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ).

TMJ (or TMD) is a term used to refer to pain and restriction in the jaw and the musclestmj of chewing that connect the mandible to your skull.  Online sources generally agree that the causes of TMJ are not well understood, yet Medline Plus had some pretty spot-on causes, from a Somatic Educator perspective:

  • Orthodontic braces
  • Poor posture
  • Stress and teeth grinding
  • Poor diet/lack of sleep

Ah, stress! What a great place to start. If you’re already familiar with Hanna Somatics you know that all humans respond to stress in very predictable full body patterns of muscular holding. Muscles that are tight have learned to stay tight due to “contract” signals from the brain. The key to releasing tight muscles and regaining optimum muscle function, whether in the back, shoulders, legs or jaw, is to reset the brain’s sensation and control of the muscles.

TMJ is a functional problem of the muscular system and it can be reversed with somatic movement.

TMD and TMJ are somatic problems of a functional nature – yet another example of Sensory Motor Amnesia. TMJ can occur due to a one-sided accident, slumped posture over the computer, and most commonly, excessive dental work.

I just successfully reversed a serious case of TMJ that developed due to a lot of dental work. The photo below is from the last of six visits to my dentist’s office. Notice in the photo on the left how my head and neck are turned slightly to the right. Trust me when I say that there was tension in my neck, jaw and face along the right side.

What you can’t see because of the paper sheet over my chest is that my shoulders were rounded forward. This is a typical “dental patient posture.”

MP dentist

“Dental patient posture” is a Red Light Reflex pattern of collapsing inward with the neck cocked backward. The need to keep the jaw open and often contract one side of the jaw to make room for dental implements or hold them in place teaches the muscles that move the jaw to stay tight. This contributes to TMJ. The muscles of the face are no different from muscles in the rest of the body; they can be reeducated through somatic exploration.

In the video below I demonstrate a sequence of Somatic Explorations that will teach you to retrain the muscles that move the jaw so that they can relax and release. You will learn to move your jaw freely again… without pain! Repeat these movements several times at your own pace. You will explore the natural movement of the jaw: open, close, side to side gliding and gently swinging as if making a “U” shape.

Remember that TMJ is part of a larger pattern of muscle tightness in the center of the body. I recommend learning basic Somatic Exercises (click here to buy my DVDs), especially those for the neck and shoulders. There are larger muscles at the center of the body that attach up into the neck and skull an help them move easily and freely. When these larger muscles (especially the back and front of the body) hold excess muscle tension, they, too, can contribute to TMJ.

Why Is One Leg Shorter Than The Other? The Trauma Reflex!

Here are three frequent questions my clients ask me:

Why do I have one leg shorter than the other?

Why do I have hip pain, knee or foot pain but only on one side?

I’m told that my pelvis is rotated because I have a weak core. Is that true?

The answer:

Leg length discrepancy, one side hip, knee, and foot pain, sciatica, tilted posture, piriformis syndrome, and a rotated pelvic are all the result of an habituated Trauma Reflex. No, the core is not necessarily “weak.” It is likely so strong and tight – within the pattern of the Trauma Reflex – that the center of the body cannot fully relax, rotate and side bend evenly on both sides.

When you respond to any physical trauma, a sudden blow to the body, a slip, fall or crutchesaccident of any kind, the brain instantly, involuntarily, and often violently, contracts the muscles of the waist (the oblique muscles), the trunk rotators (lattisimus dorsii, abdominals, adductors and abductors of the legs) and the muscles that allow the pelvis to swing freely (quadratus lumborum and iliopsoas) in an attempt to avoid injury or to prevent further pain after the accident has occurred. If you’ve ever prevented what could have been a terrible fall you know the wrenching pain that comes with the sudden twisting movement that helps you regain  your balance.

If the accident is severe or violent – a car accident or a sudden slip on the ice, for example – the brain Trauma reflex - frontteaches these muscles to stay tight and contracted. If you injure yourself on one side of your body and need to protect that injured limb until it is healed (as occurs when using crutches), you can inadvertently learn to walk with a limp once the injury is healed. A one-sided job, like sitting at a computer and using the mouse all day with one hand can create a strong imbalance on one side of the body.

When muscles stay tight the brain loses the ability to fully contract and release the muscle. The ability to fully release the muscle is what gives the muscle power. This state of elevated muscle tonus and tension that won’t relax is called Sensory Motor Amnesia. In the case of an habituated Trauma Reflex your brain integrates and organizes this learned and involuntary full-body imbalance into a “neutral” and “balanced” that, as those of you have ever suffered an accident or injury, can sense is out of balance, tilted, rotated and uncomfortable. Not to mention inefficient.

How do you learn to regain symmetry and balance in the center of your body? Muscles that have learned to stay tight and contracted due to stress must learn to relax, release, and move freely again. It’s muscle reeducation. Many people can benefit from one-on-one clinical sessions with a qualified Somatic Educator skilled in the methods of Thomas Hanna. However, many people can also easily learn to do this on their own, at home.

The video below can help you learn to lengthen both sides of the waist evenly so you can regain your internal awareness (“somatic” awareness) and proprioception for improved balance and a smoother gait. This easy awareness exercise is best done after you learn to relax and release the waist muscles by doing arch and flatten, the side bend and the washrag.

To learn more Hanna Somatic Exercises and learn to relieve muscle pain and improve mobility, and somatic awareness, you can purchase my Pain-Free series of DVDs. Enjoy the video and enjoy standing tall!

Back Pain, X-rays, and Muscle Tension

A client sent me an interesting blog post about X-rays, chiropractors, and back pain.

Chiropractors and doctors consider back pain a structural  problem, when in fact most back pain is functional in nature.

If you understand functional movement you don’t need to see an X-ray to know that someone has an overly arched back, slumped posture or scoliotic leaning. If you palpate someone’s back and feel muscles as tight as steel rods, you don’t need an X-ray to show you that the muscles are pulling on the bones, or that one side of the body bears more weight than the other side (which could result in hip and knee pain). You just need to understand the relationship between the brain (which controls the muscles), the muscles, and movement.

Regaining full muscle function and relieving muscle pain is a learning process.

Most doctors no longer learn the art of palpation, which familiarizes the practitioner with the function and tonus rate of the muscles. Nor do they apply an understanding of the brain/muscle connection and how muscles become tight and stay tight/frozen. They tend to medicalize back pain. I agree with the writer that X-rays are a significant intervention that should be used only when a break or tear is suspected. When muscles become “frozen” and stop functioning properly, however, the best way to regain proper muscle function and improve proprioception is through movement re-education such as Hanna Somatic Education. The muscles, which learned to stay tight due to stress responses, need to be “woken up” at the brain level, so they can learn to relax.

So if you have tight muscles, muscle pain or dysfunction that is not part of a disease process, and wonder whether or not you need an X-ray to diagnose the problem, first try moving – bending, reaching, gently twisting. Notice how it feels – how you can and cannot move. This will begin to shed light on your problem and increase your own sense of body awareness. If you can move easily in one direction, but not the other, you probably have some “amnesic,” tight muscles which, with some methodical and easy retraining, can learn to relax and function again as they are meant to. This will relieve your pain and save you money in the long run.

To learn the methods and movements that will teach you to reverse chronic muscle pain, increase awareness, control and flexibility of muscles – and save you money in the long run – click here to buy my new, easy-to-follow instructional DVD.

To make an appointment with Martha to discuss your particular muscle pain problem, click here for more information about private clinical sessions, online video sessions, group classes and phone consultations.