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 ask about structural anomalies in my TMJ consultations. I’m interested in whether one foot is flatter than the other, whether there’s a leg length discrepancy or a pelvic tilt or any curvature of the spine.
When they are lying on my massage table, I can check for a leg length discrepancy with their legs flat. I can also tune into their cranial rhythm and notice whether there’s asymmetry in the flexion and extension motions at the feet, which indicates asymmetry in the pelvis.
I also feel the space beneath the ears between the bones to see if it’s symmetrical.
When the skull and spine are out of alignment, it can contribute to multiple dysfunctions, with TMJ issues being one of them. (Ask me — I experienced intermittent right jaw clicking and my face drifting slightly to the left in meditation until my chiropractor realigned my AO joint, which also resolved issues that were all on my left side.)
For more on this, including exercises you can do starting at 5:25, watch this video.
The last part of my evaluation for symmetry is to place the pads of my fingers (or have the client place their fingerpads) over the TMJs right in front of the ears and ask them to open and close repeatedly.
Often 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 on 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? Most of your issues occurring on one side only?
Have you ever had a foot, ankle, leg, or hip injury? Can you still tell a difference between the injured side and the uninjured one? Can you balance easily on each foot?
How’s your posture? How about your sleep posture?
Also, do you primarily chew on one side of your mouth?
Becoming more symmetrical can be a good long-term project that can pay off with more ease of movement, less discomfort, better balance, injury prevention.
Symmetry is an ideal, like perfection. Most of us are doing the best we can. There’s always going to be some asymmetry in the body (our abdominal organs are asymmetric), but we can definitely address our 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. You can find a trainer near you online.
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 alignment-oriented types like Iyengar and Anusara
- qi gong
- tai chi
- martial arts
The type of bodywork that directly 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.
I invite you to work with me!
MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT, BCTMB
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy • TMJ Relief
online scheduler: maryannreynolds.as.me
text or voicemail: 512-507-4184