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.

Thank you for a good year, my friends. Here’s to 2019!

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I woke up this morning at year’s end, reflecting on my work in 2018. It’s been a very good year for me in so many ways, and I want to share that with you.

  • I’ve really come into my own doing the advanced integrative bodywork that I love, and of course there’s always more to learn with each person who comes in.
  • I’ve done more sessions with more people than in previous years.
  • I started working with a business coach this year, and I am very grateful for that. I’ve learned a lot.
  • I’ve continued training in craniosacral therapy, biodynamics, and Zero Balancing, deepening and integrating those skills.
  • Treating TMJ tension and pain has become a satisfying mainstay of my practice, ranging from the free 30-minute consultation to the 5-sessions-in-4-weeks program to my Facebook group Word of Mouth, as well as seeking and working with referral partners.
  • My new Heavenly Head Massage is getting a lot of traction.
  • I feel settled and at home in my office in West Lake Hills and very happy to be working with the practitioners who share the suite.
  • I’ve enjoyed feeding the birds on the hillside outside my office as well as arranging rocks just so.

I don’t know what 2019 will deliver, of course, but I have some plans:

  • I’ll be taking a course in TMJ mastery from a teacher in Canada who’s been doing TMJ and vocal cord work for over 20 years. He hasn’t posted the dates and locations for his 2019 trainings yet, but trading some of Austin’s summer heat for some Canadian cool would be nice!
  • I’m taking another craniosacral therapy course from the Upledger Institute in May, SomatoEmotional Release 2 here in Austin, and I’m slowly making progress on getting certified in craniosacral therapy techniques. I’ll continue to attend study groups and work with a mentor and will serve as a teaching assistant for CST1 in Austin next August. I feel advanced Upledger courses calling me — the brain, cranial nerves, pediatrics, the inner physician, and more.
  • I’m starting to work on certification in Zero Balancing. I continue attend study groups, advancing skills days, and taking classes, and I hope to attend founder Fritz Smith’s 90th birthday in May near Palm Springs, CA.
  • I plan to make videos for my website, Facebook page, and Facebook group.
  • I don’t have any classes in mind yet for biodynamics in 2019, but I plan to continue working on a modeling project with a mentor and trading with fellow practitioners.

May 2019 bring you more of what you want in life — health, happiness, abundance, love, opportunity, connection, peace of mind, and satisfaction. Thank you for your presence in my life!