Does your day involve a lot of talking? Do you suffer from regular tension headaches, clicking in your jaw or neck pain that you can’t figure out? Chances are you are hiding a ton of tension in your two primary jaw muscles, the temporalis and masseter.

The masseter and temporalis are responsible for closing the jaw.

The masseter and temporalis are responsible for closing the jaw.

The masseter is one of the strongest muscles in your body relative to its size. It doesn’t get much rest either, as it works constantly anytime you talk or chew. If you grind your teeth or clench your jaw in your sleep (or during awake hours), the masseter and temporalis get even less rest, as they work stressfully around the clock.

The masseter runs from your zygomatic arch (the cheek bone) to the lower corner of your jaw, known as the mandible. The temporalis is appropriately named for its location – on your temple. It lays like a fan over the temporal fossa and inserts into a bony beak on your jaw, known as the coronoid process of the mandible. The primary action for both of these muscles is to elevate the mandible (aka close your jaw).

Like many young people in our country, I had braces as a kid. Part of my orthodontia treatment was to pull adult teeth in my mouth to make “room” in my jaw for an aligned smile.  I was also a tongue thruster and through the use of retainers retrained my tongue to thrust on the roof of my mouth instead of behind my front teeth. As you can imagine, this completely rearranged my bite (as there were teeth in places they wouldn’t have been without intervention) and I hadn’t solved the issue of thrusting, just redirected it.

I never thought much of it until I became a full-blown body nerd and was waking up consistently in the morning with neck pain. No matter how hard I tried to reorganize my sleep arrangement, from different pillows to switching sides of the bed, I would still wake up with pain that began to radiate down into my shoulder. The unaddressed tension in my neck and jaw had come to a point where I couldn’t even bear the touch of my esthetician without wincing. I had discovered a body blind spot that I had been ignoring for many years.

Once I began to deal with my jaw pain and relax my jaw muscles before bed, my regularly occurring tension headaches and shoulder pain began to dissipate as well. The constant clenching of my jaw and thrusting of my tongue had created a cascade of effects that rained down into the joints below.

One of the first things I did was to stop constantly clenching my jaw. It was as simple as allowing my upper and lower teeth to separate slightly, without opening my mouth, every time I noticed that I was clenching. I also stopped incessantly thrusting and pressing my tongue into the roof of my mouth, and allowed it to relax as well. Just as realign my feet to parallel whenever I catch myself standing like a duck, I relaxed my tongue whenever I noticed thrusting. I was very surprised how often I caught myself doing this – but after many weeks, the new habit of a relaxed jaw finally took root.

Another stretch I began to do, suggested to me by fellow Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Elizabeth Wipff, was a tongue exercise that she learned from a vocal teacher. It is so simple, and yields great results. To do it, trace around all sides of your teeth with your tongue and then stick it out and hold in various directions. You may try to touch your nose, your left ear, your right ear, and eyebrows – just try to take your tongue in every possible direction. The first time I tried this, the stretch sensation went all the way down the back of my throat. In addition to my jaw, I had found another blind spot!

Come back on Friday for my favorite TMJ, tension headaches and jaw solutions with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy balls. These tried and true techniques have become daily practices, just as I brushing your teeth is.

 

Enjoyed this article? Read Help Relieve TMJ Syndrome With Yoga Tune Up®

Alexandra Ellis

Alexandra Ellis is an Integrated Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® Method Teacher Trainer, RYPT-500 and founder of AE Wellness. Her teaching and studies focus on injury prevention, rehabilitation and wellness, inspired by her studies at UC Davis where she earned a BS in Exercise Biology. With a strong background and keen interest in anatomy and physiology, Alex strives to empower people to improve their health and well being through a personal movement practice and enhanced body awareness.

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Allison English

This is a wonderful description of the masseter and temporalis muscles and how they can go awry. I also have some jaw and facial pain/headaches related to constantly talking, clenching teeth and orthodontia. I saw a specialist physical therapist who works only with tongue/jaw/airway issues and we worked on appropriate tongue posture – how the tongue should naturally rest on the roof of the mouth without strain. Such a fascinating area to learn more about and bring into our awareness. Thank you for your insights about your own pathway to unraveling jaw tension.

Ariana Brandao

I’m amazed at how over-looked the face muscles are in most of my yoga class experiences, yet how effective and helpful it can be to focus on releasing tension in the face.

I’m inspired to incorporate a couple of minutes of facial stretches, and bringing awareness to how natural it is to hold tension in the masseter and temporalis to my own life, and then to share this with my students.

Dana

I also had no idea I was clenching my jaw at night until the dentist pointed it out to me. I imagine it’s going to be a challenging thing to retrain in my sleep but I’m hoping what I do when I’m awake will translate into my sleep. Going to start by bringing more awareness to my teeth/tongue position during the day, using the therapy balls to roll out over-worked muscles and work the tongue and trying some positional exercises. Thanks!

Georgia

As someone who has suffered from TMJD pain, I really appreciate this article! I feel like the TMD is often overlooked – but since it’s the closest joint to our brain, it is extremely important in relation to nerve input! I had fibromyalgia-like pain that was alleviated with TMJ muscular work and balancing.

Julieann

Great tip I suffer from TMJ and migraines just tried the little trick with my tongue and found instant relief.

Elaine Jackson

This is so helpful. I grind my teeth at night and carry a lot of jaw tension. I am definitely going to try these tongue exercises and pay more attention to letting my teeth come apart.

Bette

Oh my goodness. Thank you for this article. I do not have tension headaches, but I am constantly clenching my jaw. I am going to be conscious of the slight separation of my teeth and work on those tongue exercises. I am hoping it will receive some of the daily tension I feel in my jaw.

Wendy Hensley

This article about tongue movement opened up a whole new area to add to ways to help others. I recently and my first time ever felt some pain in my left masseter and got our my YTU balls. I did this a couple days in a row and haven’t had tightness or pain sense. It is so cool to have to work through your own issues and discover solutions that meet your need. Nothing like first hand knowledge. This is a keeper.

Wendy Hensley

This article opened up a whole new area to add to ways to help others. It is so cool to have to work through your own issues and discover solutions that meet your need. Nothing like first hand knowledge. This is a keeper.

Connie

Great post! I have not thought about the complications of having braces in my mouth but it did encourage me to thrust my tongue. In addition to watching my duck feet and tight shoulders, I have now to watch how I hold my tongue. Thanks

Emily

Interesting connection with the orthodontics. Also, this is spot on advice. Thank you. “It was as simple as allowing my upper and lower teeth to separate slightly, without opening my mouth, every time I noticed that I was clenching.”