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 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.