Treating TMJ issues: asymmetries in the rest of the body

Jaw pain is rarely entirely in the jaw!

If you were building a tower, and one of the floors wasn’t level, it would affect the floors above it — unless you somehow compensated.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is kind of like that, only it’s because it settled unevenly on the ground beneath it. As they built it over the years, it would sink, stabilize, sink more…

The structure of the body is like that too — even when standing on level solid ground.

Because the jaw is near the top of the skeleton, imbalances below can affect the alignment and functionality of the temporomandibular joints (TMJs).

The primary cause of most jaw pain is asymmetrical hypertonicity. Thanks, TMJ Mastery teacher John Corry! That means that some of the muscles that affect the jaw are tighter than others.

I include a basic structural evaluation in my free TMJ consultations. It’s pretty cursory. I’m just looking for asymmetries. Here’s how I do it.

The patient stands with their shoes off.

I feel the space under theIr arches and check whether their feet (or one foot) are pronating or supinating.

Checking the points on the tops of the hips to see if they’re level comes next.

I ask about scoliosis if it’s not already apparent. Same with pelvic floor issues.

Then I check their shoulders to see if they’re level.

I look at the patient from each side to see if they have a pelvic tilt toward the front or the back and view their spinal curves.

When they are lying on my massage table, I can check for a leg length discrepancy with their legs flat, and then with feet flat/knees bent. I can also see whether their feet point up symmetrically.

I place the pads of my fingers over their TMJs right in front of their ears and ask them to open and close repeatedly.

Usually one side moves first.

Often one side feels closer to the ear than the other.

Sometimes one side sticks out more than the other.

Try it yourself. What do you notice?

None of this is super precise. I’m just getting a basic read on asymmetries in the structure of the patient that may affect the jaw.

Have you noticed that you have a dominant side? A side that feels stronger than the other?

Have you ever had a foot, ankle, leg, or hip injury? Can you still tell the difference between the injured side and the uninjured one?

Does your physical activity work your body evenly, left and right sides, front and back, upper, lower?

Do you have a full range of movement in your joints?

How’s your posture?

How about your sleep posture?

It’s not my main business to start correcting these asymmetries (except in the upper body/jaw when I can). Becoming more symmetrical can take a while, years in some cases, so I consider it a long-term project for people with jaw pain to find relief, as well as more ease and functionality in their bodies.

Symmetry is also an ideal, like perfection. Most of us are doing the best we can. There’s probably always going to be some asymmetry in the body, but we can definitely address the most dysfunctional areas.

The functional movement screen is a set of 7 movements you do with a trainer, who scores you and can prescribe workouts that strengthen your weaknesses. FMS was developed to identify athletes who were prone to injury before they got injured. It can work for ordinary people too.

Here’s a link to view the screening movements. Find a trainer on your own.

Practices of non-linear movement can help if done regularly over a long period. These movements work both sides of the body. They increase flexibility and balance and fluidity. And they are fun! Examples:

  • yoga, especially if it’s alignment-oriented like Iyengar and Anusara
  • qi gong
  • tai chi
  • Gyrokinesis
  • martial arts
  • dance, especially free-form dancing like ecstatic dance

The type of bodywork that addresses asymmetries is called structural bodywork. There are two main schools of training: Rolfing Structural Integration and Anatomy Trains Structural Integration. Neuromuscular therapy also assesses posture and gait pattern and can address imbalances.

There are a lot of tools that you can use on yourself to improve posture and sleep posture, release muscle tension, help remove strain from the neck and the sacrum. Some of them are included in this post on self-care tools.

Update from MaryAnn, 5.1.2020

I can see that my posts about TMJ issues are getting a lot of views. I’ve even gotten a few phone calls.

I am not able to offer any bodywork sessions at this time, by Texas law. I can only offer distance energy healing sessions on a sliding scale basis. Both the recipients of those sessions and I have experienced success with this way of working. It can be even more powerful than doing sessions in person.

I encourage you, if these weird times are bringing up your stuff, to set up an appointment.

Even when it becomes legal to work again, I am holding off until I feel comfortable that it’s safe for you, me, the person who comes in after you, and my officemates and their clients.

I would prefer more testing.

I would prefer more knowledge about antibodies.

I would prefer more knowledge about prevention. (Some not-yet-peer-reviewed research says that those with high Vitamin D levels in their blood had the mildest cases, so please, supplement and get some safe sun. If you’d like to order this and whatever other supplements you need online, you get 30% off using my Wellevate practitioner account: https://wellevate.me/mary-ann-reynolds.)

My safety concerns especially apply to my TMJ Relief sessions, which include working inside the mouth. It will take longer for me to safely bring those back.

If you have TMJ issues, please search for and join my Facebook group Word of Mouth: Resources for TMJ Issues/Dysfunction, if you haven’t already. It includes educational units about TMJ issues, including self-massage, exercises, yoga, and hypnosis that can be done at home.

Wishing you wellness.

Coming attraction: yoga for the jaw

I’m announcing now that I intend to create a “yoga for the jaw” class by the end of this year. There’s a sweet overlap of demographics: women of child-bearing age are nine times more likely than men to have severe or chronic TMJ issues, and this group also tends to take yoga (and Pilates) classes.

My plan is in the seedling stage right now. I have so much to learn and discern.

It feels good to get back into teaching yoga. I completed teacher training 10 years ago and taught restorative classes for a while. I’ve been practicing since 1982 and have been especially devoted since 1996 after a car wreck. I’m drawn to alignment-oriented classes and teachers, both for my own issues and as a bodyworker.

To this end, I will be taking a workshop from a highly-regarded yoga teacher in Dallas in late September. Embodied Dharma: Yoga, Connective Tissue, and Inter-Being is being offered at the Dallas Yoga Center by Tias Little, who created and teaches Prajna yoga.

Learning from Tias has been on my bucket list for a decade, and I’m finally doing it! Prajna means wisdom in Sanskrit, and Prajna yoga is more comprehensive than most yoga, including more of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga into practice, as well as anatomy and somatic awareness. Tias includes aspects of Buddhism and craniosacral therapy — interests we share — into his teachings.

I am especially looking forward to learning more about yoga for the cranium, jaw, and ear from him.

Thank you, Anna Gieselman, a Prajna teacher at Castle Hill Fitness in Austin, for letting me know about this workshop!

If you’re interested, Anna is teaching a free Prajna yoga class on Labor Day, Free Day of Yoga, at Castle Hill’s downtown location. You can reserve your spot here.

The earth is a solar-powered jukebox

Silence is not the absence of something. Silence is the presence of everything. ~ Gordon Hempton

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The title of this post is a quote from Gordon Hempton, who has dedicated his life to silence. He’s an acoustic ecologist who has circled the planet multiple times recording rare sounds in nature. To him, real quiet is presence, and silence is not the absence of sound — it’s the absence of noise.

Like clean water and seeing the stars at night, Gordon says silence is not a luxury, it’s essential for well-being.

Enjoy his website here. It includes several soundscapes. (Listen with earbuds or a room speaker — laptop speakers don’t capture the full range.)

I’m purchasing some of his soundscapes to play during bodywork sessions. I have a sound machine that plays sounds of rain, a stream, ocean waves — but how much more awesome to play the sound of ocean surf recorded inside a hollow spruce log, the resonant wood violins are made from.

I can’t get enough of Gordon, and if you are a silence lover, a nature lover, sensitive to sound, you may want to know Gordon better.

I found all this during my research for my presentation Investigating the Power of Silence, to be given at Free Day of NLP on April 7 at St. Edward’s University in Austin. Go here to RSVP.

Raffle results

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Today I drew from all the entries in my raffle for a 5-hour package of bodywork, which would cost $400 to purchase. Everyone who bought a session or a package or who referred a new client to me during September, October, and November was entered into the drawing.

The winner’s name is being kept private, but I can share that she bought a very generous package of sessions. (You can buy as many as you want and aren’t limited to the 3- or 5-session packages I give as examples.)

Although each entry had the possibility of being chosen, in this case the odds were in her favor because she simply had more entries than anyone else. Good strategy!

This is the first time I’ve offered a raffle. What do you think? Should I do it again next fall?