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Back in the office on August 21

I’ve been out on vacation since August 3, and I will be taking another course from the Upledger Institute, SomatoEmotional Release 1, August 16-19.

The following day, Monday, is my regular day off, and I will definitely be needing that to recover from the intensity of the training.

I’ll be rested and ready with some new skills on Tuesday, August 21. Please text me if you have any questions, and if you’re ready you can book a session online. I look forward to working again.

Referral partners for TMJ Relief

I am happy to announce some new referral partners among Austin, Texas, wellness practitioners. I will be updating this post as I make new connections.

Dr. Elizabeth Rayne, DDS, is the first dentist who asked for my business cards after learning I do craniosacral therapy and TMJ sessions. She’s known for her holistic practice in Austin.

Dr. Sue Muschett, DC, of Synergy Chiropractic & Bodywork has been sending patients with TMJ pain/dysfunction to me. Her patients have told me how helpful and generous she is. Sue is also a massage therapist.

Dr. Sid Cunningham, DDS, heard about my TMJ Relief work first-hand from Dr. Sue and requested my business cards. I met with him. He’s a caring dentist with a lot of experience and connections. If you have jaw pain or dysfunction, Dr. Cunningham can accommodate you in tending to your dentistry needs.

Dr. Ameet Trivedi, DDS, of Honest Family Dental is someone I met in an online group of wellness practitioners. (We each heard some good “word of mouth” about each other.) He cares about his patients, researches and adopts new technologies, and is connected with those who can provide advanced services when needed. He can work with your needs if you have jaw pain or dysfunction.

If you are a dentist, physical therapist, or otherwise provide services to people experiencing jaw pain and/or dysfunction — either you see people who can use my services (for TMD caused by muscle tension) or you serve people with more complex TMD issues — and you would like to be listed here, please contact me.

Free consultation for TMJ issues

I’m please to announce I’ve added a new service. If you have jaw pain or dysfunction and are wondering if I can do anything for you, please schedule a free 30-minute consultation.

A lot of people, including dentists, are not aware that appropriately trained massage therapists can work on relieving your TMJ issues that are due to muscle tension or trauma. 

Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 8.44.49 PMI’ll ask about your symptoms and your history. I’ll also evaluate your body, including your neck and jaw.

Then we can talk about treatment options. If you’ve never had manual therapy for jaw pain and dysfunction, or if you’ve received it previously from a different practitioner, I’ll be happy to tell you what a typical session is like and the typical progression if you are curious about buying a series of sessions.

Please note: What I find once I start working and how well your system responds are variable with bodywork.

I’ve been doing TMJ Relief sessions since 2014. My teacher was Ryan Hallford of the Craniosacral Resource Center in Southlake, TX. I’ve taken his cranial base/TMJ class twice and been a teaching assistant for it when Christian Current taught. In addition, I’ve studied craniosacral therapy with the Upledger Institute.

Please let me know if you have any questions, and don’t hesitate to read the testimonials on my What People Are Saying page.

Treating TMJ issues: types, causes, and exercises

I just discovered an excellent new source of information about TMJ pain and dysfunction. It’s a really great website called Be My Healer offered by a doctor of physical therapy, Sophie Xie.

She’s got a couple of posts about TMJ issues. (If you have other issues, please look around. I am impressed with the quality of her posts in terms of credible information, writing to a lay audience, and her images. You go, Dr. Sophie Xie!)

First, this article helps distinguish between types and causes of TMJ dysfunction. In short:

  • Type 1 is arthrogenous TMJ, meaning the problem is related to the functioning of the bony temporomandibular joint. There are two causes: arthritis and disc displacement. She recommends the best treatments for each cause. (I can’t help with these, but exercises* can help. If you’re in Austin and have disc displacement, I can refer you to a couple of oral surgeons who are getting great results.)
  • Type 2 is myogenous, meaning muscle-related. Causes include bruxism (clenching and/or grinding), muscle imbalance (such as forward head posture, chewing on the same side, playing the violin), and systemic influence causing muscle tension (such as chronic stress, fibromyalgia, PMS).

Dr. Sophie Xie writes, “TMJ massage therapy can help by releasing the tense mastication muscle and provide pain and stress relief. However, you will need to call around to find a massage therapist who is specialized in intraoral release to receive the most targeted treatment.”

Here’s me raising my hand, signaling “Pick me!” I can help with all of the muscle-related types of TMD. I offer intra-oral work, help relieve forward-head posture, and help you relax from stress.

Again, exercises* can also help.

  • Type 3 is idiopathic, referring to a single cause: trauma impacting the joint  from accidents, injuries, dental treatments, even violent laughing or yawning.

Dr. Sophie Xie writes, “Post-traumatic TMJ pain is highly preventable. Early intervention such as physical therapy and massage therapy are excellent in preventing scar formation and muscle stiffness​. Gentle and progressive jaw stretching and exercises* will build a strong muscle function to keep chronic and repetitive TMJ pain away.”

Again, I can help.

*In her post Say goodbye to TMJ pain with these 5 convenient jaw exercises, Dr. Sophie Xie describes and shows (with delightful illustrations) exercises to strengthen and balance your jaw muscles.

She writes, “Most people experience significant TMJ pain reduction with daily exercises after 5-6 weeks. You should experience even faster results if you are also combining TMJ massage therapy with a nightly mouth guard.”

Her website has a contact page if you want to work with her. (I believe she’s practicing in Washington state.)

If you are in Austin, Texas, I’m happy to help.

Treating TMJ issues: the relaxing breath

Today I want to complete something I promised, sharing a quick way to relieve stress. This is important since so much TMJ misery is related to stress. Either the pain causes you to feel stressed, or your stress from other reasons creates muscle tension, which creates pain. It can be hard to break that cycle.

Some people have a hard time relaxing. The pressure to perform, to get things done, is on. Maybe they have a lot of energy but haven’t learned or had a chance yet to create time for themselves yet. (Yep, in my 30s.)

Or they’ve gone through a stressful period and it feels like their body forgot how to unwind. (Been there multiple times.)

Perhaps they’ve suffered a trauma that keeps them hypervigilant. (I know that one too well.)

Some psychotherapists specialize in helping trauma victims rebalance their autonomic nervous systems, so they can pendulate between fight-or-flight only when a true threat is present and rest-and-digest when they’re safe (and enjoy its benefits of better digestion, better healing, and inner peace). If this is the case with you, check out Somatic Experiencing therapy.

Others just need a little help to get started relaxing. Massage can help tremendously.

A meditation practice is a commitment to relax while sitting upright every day, with attention on your breath and sensations, observing the activity of your monkey mind with some detachment and humor (or horror!).

In fact, I have been curious for years about how relaxed I can become without falling asleep! It’s what drives me to meditate daily, do 10-day vipassana meditations, float in floatation tanks, and get esoteric acupuncture.

If you’d like to start rebalancing from stress into relaxation on your own, there’s an exercise I recommend called 4-7-8 breathing (the Relaxing Breath). Dr. Andrew Weil, who has been practicing and writing about holistic health and integrative medicine for 30 years, came up with it, although its roots are in yoga.

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The video is 3:18 long. Dr. Weil recommends doing 4 breath cycles at least twice a day for two months to get the benefits.

After a month, you can increase to 8 breath cycles, the maximum.

He recommends slowing the cycle down, with the limiting factor being how long you can comfortably hold your breath.

After practicing this for 4-6 weeks, you can begin to use it when something stressful happens. It’s a great resource for me when another driver does something alarming, but there’s no accident and I am left with the residue of stress in my body. A few of these breaths rebalance me. It can help with cravings and falling asleep.

After 2-3 months, it changes your physiology. It lowers heart rate and blood pressure, improves digestion, and is much more powerful than anti-anxiety drugs.

In essense, you are retraining your nervous system to be more relaxed. In my 7 years of doing bodywork, one day I realized this is what we bodyworkers are doing: retraining your body to be more relaxed and functional.

You may become less stressed from using this technique (yay!) and still benefit from receiving a TMJ Relief session to retrain your jaw muscles into relaxation.

If you’re ready to have that conversation with me, please connect. I’d love to hear from you.

Treating TMJ issues: the effects of stress

For decades, the news has cautioned us about the ill effects of stress on our health, longevity, and happiness. But what is stress and how do you know when you are experiencing it? What does it have to do with jaw pain and dysfunction? Most of all, what can you do about it?

Stress is your body’s response to threats, real or imagined. You become alert, focused, and energized, ready for action. It is a physiological response designed to protect you in dangerous situations, to get you away from the danger or to confront it. Something in us is always scanning for danger and ready to respond.

It also gives you the energy to meet life’s challenges, for example, taking a test, interviewing for a job, making an important presentation, having a difficult conversation, scoring a point, winning a game, driving safely. Doing anything difficult where you care about the outcome requires some extra energy and focus.

So stress isn’t inherently bad — but too much stress can damage your health and quality of life. In the fight-or-flight response (sympathetic dominance of the autonomic nervous system), your body releases stress hormones. Your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure rises, your muscles tense, your breathing quickens, and your senses become sharper, all so you can respond to the situation.

We’re designed to respond this way in extraordinary situations, and the rest of the time (which ideally would be most of the time), to live peacefully, nourishing ourselves, cooperating with the group, resting, relaxing, having fun, and enjoying our lives (parasympathetic dominance, or rest-and-digest mode).

Physiologically, the heart rate slows, breathing slows, blood pressure goes down, muscles relax, and attention becomes broader. In this state, your system has more resources for digesting and assimilating your food and repairing damage.

The switch from rest-and-digest to fight-or-flight occurs quickly and automatically, bypassing your conscious mind. You become aware afterwards that your state has changed.

This is a good exercise: How do you know you are experiencing stress? What tips you off? Do you notice a sudden sharp inhalation and muscle tension? (That’s what I notice.) Do you feel your heart pounding? Do you notice that your mind suddenly becomes focused and alert?

Another good exercise: How do you know you’re okay? Is there a kinesthetic signature that lets you know you are relaxed? I feel a peaceful, happy feeling in my chest. What do you notice?

What does stress have to do with jaw pain and dysfunction? Almost every bit of information available about the causes of TMD connects it to stress. Muscle tension is a universal response to stress. The jaw muscles tighten.

Most everyone experiences stress, but not everyone experiences jaw symptoms. No one seems to know why this is. Here are some of my observations and hypotheses.

  • I’ve observed that most people carry way more muscle tension from stress in their upper bodies, in the upper back, shoulders, neck, jaw, and/or face. For some, all of those places get tense. For others, only one or two get tense.
  • The jaw is the only part involved in chewing and talking. Chewing doesn’t have any associations with threats or danger that I can think of. If the food tastes good and is safe and your teeth and jaws are healthy, chewing is a pleasure.
  • Talking can be dangerous. Some clients have directly related the onset of their jaw symptoms with feeling unsafe about freely expressing themselves about a difficult situation they had with another human being. This could have happened long, long ago, with the unpleasant memory being repressed.
  • Some people have had so much stress and/or trauma in their lives, it’s become chronic. They don’t know how to deeply relax.

Maybe some people are predisposed to have jaw issues. It could be from the strains of their birth and an attempt to reshape the head. It could be a learned strain pattern that runs in their family. It could be from a lack of nutrients that help form healthy jaws (read more about the work of Weston A. Price, DDS, on this topic). I’m sure there are many other possibilities.

I do know that for everyone, help is available. You can release (or get help releasing) the tension in your jaw muscles. You can examine your past, with psychotherapeutic help or by journaling or talking to a trusted friend. You can learn to deeply relax, and it’s a pleasure. And that’s a good topic for tomorrow.

Treating TMJ issues: sleep posture

Are you aware that there is a pillow specially designed for people with TMJ and neck issues? I’ve had one for several years, and I love it. I take it with me when I travel and when I camp. Since I started using it, I’ve never woken up with neck or jaw pain.

It’s the Therapeutica Sleeping pillow, designed by a chiropractor and an ergonomic designer. It’s…different-looking.

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It’s designed for people who sleep on their sides or their back.

I don’t believe there are any pillows designed for stomach sleepers, which is hard on the neck and not great for your organs either.

This pillow comes in five sizes, and you order the size that fits your shoulder width. The proper-sized pillow keeps your head and neck aligned with your spine. Since we spend a third of our lives sleeping, this is important! Good sleep posture makes a difference over time, resulting in fewer neck and jaw issues.

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The indentations on the “wings” relieve pressure on your jaw when side-sleeping. Some users also find it helps with shoulder issues.

The pillow comes with a 5-year warranty not to lose its shape or resilience, and many users have used it long beyond 5 years. I put a king-size pillowcase on my average size pillow, which comes with a zippered case.

At $86.99 for an average size, the Therapeutica Sleeping Pillow is expensive for a pillow. If you average it out over 5 years, though, you pay less than $20 per year for child, petite, average, and large adult sizes, and about $22 for extra large. When you look at it that way, it seems totally reasonable to spend this much on a pillow.

Note the link above is for the average size. Be sure to measure and get the size that’s designed for your shoulder width.

Are you a back sleeper? It’s the recommended sleep position for people with TMD. The back-sleeping-only pillow is called the Travel Pillow, and it comes in three sizes.

On Amazon, read the reviews and the Q&A. Note that not everyone likes this pillow. I believe you should try it for a week before deciding, because it may be very different from what you’ve been sleeping on, and therefore it will take time for your body to adjust. You can and will adjust if you give yourself time.

Your flexible spending account may cover the cost, so check on that if you have one. With Amazon, you can use an app like Honey that watches for price changes and notifies you via email if the price drops within 60 days.

For more on TMD and sleep, check out these sites:

If you’ve found relief from TMJ pain using this or a different pillow, please share in the comments.