Treating TMJ issues: restless legs and sleep bruxism

A new clue about bruxism.

A neurology practice noted that of its patients who had restless legs syndrome (RLS), 60% also had bruxism (grinding teeth during sleep). They found that 52% had RLS, bruxism, and migraines.

Do you relate?

The lead neurologist for this study speculated there is a gene that links these conditions.

It gets more interesting. Both restless legs syndrome and bruxism are involuntary movements occurring during sleep. Is bruxism “restless jaw syndrome?”

I’m always happy to see more research about TMJ-related issues, especially because there are so many factors that play a role in jaw dysfunction and pain.

More about bruxism.

Bruxism includes clenching and grinding the teeth. Some distinguish these as “waking bruxism” and “sleep bruxism”.

They may have different causes, in my opinion.

Sleep bruxism, in contrast to daytime clenching, is hard to treat because it occurs when unaware of your behavior and unable to change it.

Waking bruxism is a habit that can change with awareness and practice. I’ve helped many clenchers learn how to relax their mouth position.

Some things I’ve noted about bruxism in my manual therapy practice:

  • Many people don’t know they grind during sleep until a dentist tells them they have damaged teeth.
  • Bruxism often requires expensive dental work: mouthguards or splints to prevent further damage, and crowns to fortify cracked or broken teeth.
  • Sometimes the noise of grinding during sleep is loud enough to wake up family members, and that’s how people learn they have sleep bruxism.
  • People who grind at night often wake up with jaw, face, or neck pain, earaches, and/or headaches.
  • Over time, bruxism can damage the temporomandibular joints, possibly requiring surgery.

Dentists and jaw issues.

Many people expect dentists to be experts on jaw issues, yet their domain is treating the teeth and gums.

Learning about TMJ disorders is not required in dental school.

General practice dentists can prevent further tooth damage with appliances like mouthguards and splints. They can repair existing tooth damage.

Some dentists may try to adjust the positioning of the TMJs, and a few dentists also address airway issues (like sleep apnea, which also may accompany sleep bruxism) in their work.

Dentists do not address stress or tension in the jaw muscles, which contribute so much to jaw pain.

Some dentists and hygienists in the Austin area refer people with jaw pain or issues opening wide to me. (New alternative to manual therapy during the COVID pandemic: my upcoming online course, Self-Help for Jaw Pain.)

Solutions to try.

If you grind your teeth during sleep, it is possible to stop by using hypnotherapy and EFT.

I often recommend a recorded hypnotherapy session for bruxism that’s available on YouTube to listen to before sleep.

I don’t know if it works for everyone, but it’s soothing — I always fall asleep before it ends. Less stress is always desirable.

As mentioned above, dopamine agonists are prescribed for low dopamine levels.

Dopamine is released when your brain is expecting a reward — when you anticipate a pleasurable activity such as eating a delicious meal, spending time with someone you love, or receiving a big check.

It’s sometimes called “the happy hormone” because it affects your enthusiasm, motivation, and focus.

If you suffer from bruxism, before going the pharmaceutical route with dopamine agonist drugs, you may want to consider nutrition — consuming foods or taking supplements that raise your dopamine levels.

In particular the amino acid tyrosine increases dopamine.

I found a few links that may be helpful:

Treating TMJ issues: portrait of a typical patient

Based on patients I’ve seen for jaw pain since 2013, I created this portrait of a typical patient.

She’s female and first experienced jaw pain in her teen years.

She’s suffered for at least a decade.

She clenches and/or grinds her teeth.

A dentist has prescribed an appliance to prevent damage to her teeth. The chances are 50/50 that she uses it as prescribed.

Woman with jaw pain

Her pain level fluctuates, increasing with stress, and she hasn’t gone more than 6 months free from jaw pain since onset.

Her neck and shoulders are tight. Sometimes she has headaches.

She has sought help from physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, and/or massage therapy, and it helped some, but the results didn’t last.

She wonders if over time, it will get worse.

She is mostly resigned to suffering from jaw pain.

Still, she keeps hoping and searching.

If you can relate to at least some of this, please consider joining my Facebook group, Word of Mouth: Resources for Relieving Jaw Pain/Dysfunction and taking my Self-Help for Jaw Pain course (soon to be announced).

You have better things to do than suffer.

Using energy hands for distance healing

When I started doing distance sessions at the beginning of the COVID lockdown in March, I would feel energy pouring out of my hands just as I would when doing bodywork with someone in my office, even though the receivers were now at a distance, sometimes in other states.

I didn’t know what to do with it at first with no body in front of me, but I definitely understood it was an indication of me being in a resourced state for healing.

In the 27-hour intensive course I just completed in Long Distance Healing, the instructors called this phenomenon “energy hands”.

Courtesy of namastest.net.

It’s fairly common for bodyworkers to experience this energy flowing out their hands, especially when the type of bodywork they practice includes deep listening with their hands, as do craniosacral therapy and Reiki, or if they are also trained in some types of yoga or meditation that cultivate this kind of awareness.

(By the way, distance healing is not craniosacral therapy, which always includes physical touch, but some craniosacral skills transfer over to distance healing.)

With my distance receivers, I started placing my energized hands on the area of the body the receiver had identified as wanting attention. Usually these identified areas are experiencing some form of disconnect from the healthier parts of the body.

Receivers would begin to feel sensations of change in that area: for example, the area would change shape, color, or temperature, pain would lessen or disappear, tension would soften, and sensations would become more diffuse, possibly move to another area, or even bounce around (“Hey, you’re finally looking at me! Yippee!”).

Although our bodies are constantly healing themselves below our level of awareness, in these sessions, receivers sense the healing as it occurs.

To be clear, I don’t heal you. Your own cellular intelligence is the healing power. I show up for you in a resourced state (built on years of yoga, meditation, and studies in how healing works), which your system can entrain to. I show up with presence, curiosity, and some suggestions, as an ally and a witness, with an intent (shared with you) for healing to take place, but no agenda about how that will happen, because it’s your body, your history, your awareness, and your healing.

I have not yet worked with anyone who did not experience a change for the better. I’ve worked with people trying their first energy healing session after Western medicine was unable to help, and I’ve worked with people who are deeply experienced in their own somatic awareness.

Courtesy of psychiclibrary.com.

We practiced with partners during the training, placing energy hands on our partner’s shoulders and having them say when they felt them and whether they wanted the touch to be more intense or diffuse, and then disconnecting and switching partners.

We also did this with the adrenals, which pump adrenaline and cortisol into our systems, since most of us are feeling some stress and anxiety because of COVID, the economy, our culture, the future, etc.

When my partner held my adrenals, after about a minute, I felt my autonomic nervous system down-regulate into a deeper parasympathetic (rest and digest) state.

That’s another benefit of working with energy hands. I can put my energy hands inside your body, not just on the skin.

I want to do more distance healing sessions. These sessions are collaborative, empowering, use a lot of dialogue, and are based on consent. I cannot do anything to you that you do not allow.

If you’re wondering what it’s about and would like to try it, I’m offering sessions on a donation basis for a limited time. Look at what it’s worth to you, what you can afford, and donate accordingly.

After half an hour, if you don’t think it’s doing anything for you, we’ll end the session without your donation.

Click here to schedule a session.

If you’d like to talk first, you can schedule a 15-minute phone consultation. Click here to schedule a phone consultation.

Shorter office hours this week

I’ll be out of the office on Friday and Saturday this week — I’m participating in a night walking retreat at the Canyon of the Eagles Friday through Sunday. (I’ve done it before, so will miss the first day. There’s still room if you’re interested in (1) something different, (2) something relaxing, (3) removing yourself from the hustle and bustle, (4) learning a lifelong skill that you can use to relieve anxiety, (5) nature, trees, woods, water, dark skies, the beginning of the Geminid meteor shower,

I have openings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and in addition to everything else, I am offering $25 off on my Heavenly Head Massage. It’s the antidote for stress that brings relaxation like you wouldn’t believe! That discount applies to gift certificates too!

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.