TMJ and Posture
How many of you knew that the alignment of your teeth, and jaw is greatly influenced by your posture?
Did you know that dental misalignments can weaken your posture, and that poor head and neck posture can worsen symptoms associated with temporomandibular joint disorder?
Most people are very surprised by this or have never thought twice about it. When it comes to posture, what you don’t know can hurt you.
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is the jaw joint that connects the mandible, or the bone of the lower jaw, to the temporal bones of the skull of either side of the head. The TMJ enables the opening and closing of your mouth as well as rotation and lateral movements of the lower jaw.
TMJ disorders develop when stress is applied to surrounding tissues and they become inflamed and chewing becomes difficult.
Patients will commonly present with restricted range of motion of the jaw, and they will tell me they have popping and clicking sound of the jaw when opening and closing their mouth. TMJ disorders can range from a slight irritation to a severely debilitating condition. Advanced TMJ disorder can impact your ability to eat, breath, talk, and sleep, and can give rise to teeth sensitivities, ear problems, headaches, facial nerve pain and muscular aches in the neck and shoulder region.
According to the TMJ Association, approximately 12% of the population, or 35 million people in the United States are affected by TMJ disorder at any given time. So TMJ disorders we can see is a serious problem. As the symptoms advance and go uncorrected, they affect human function. By educating yourself of treatment options, you will be informed of what to do and how to do it if TMJ symptoms arise.
The most important thing to understand is that the body works together as a unit. The alignment of one part of the body will certainly affect the alignment of the rest of the body. The body is one whole, we are holistic human beings.
The worst thing that you can do when you go to a doctor is say, “this hurts,” in this case we’ll say, “My jaw hurts.”
When you say this, the doctor wants to alleviate your pain, so they will give you jaw medicine or therapies to do specifically for your jaw. An empowered patient says, “My jaw hurts, I would like to relieve this pain, and understand how it is influencing the rest of my health.” There are always side effects, and there are always compensations.
When the body is exposed to stress, in this case, stress to the jaw, the surrounding body parts will change their patterns of movement to stabilize the symptomatic body part.
The same is true for the jaw as it is with the ankle.
If you sprain your ankle, you begin walking with all your weight on the healthy ankle. Over time, do you think that walking with 2 times the amount of pressure that your ankle is used to being exposed to will change your walking pattern? Absolutely!
At Shyft, we view clients as whole human beings, called a holistic healthcare approach.
We don’t classify you as back pain, you as neck pain, and you as TMJ pain.
We evaluate where the postural distortion patterns are located in the body, from the head to the feet, and correct each posture distortion to not only alleviate the major complaint – “My jaw hurts,” – but to also correct all compensation patterns that have arisen and that if they aren’t already, will cause pain in the near future.
Let’s take this concept further by looking at the anatomy of the head, face, and neck to truly understand the postural relationship.
There is a strong correlation between forward head posture and backward lower jawbone posture. TMJ disorder patients typically have both forward head posture and backward lower jawbone posture.
How does this occur? Well, the bite, or how your teeth line up, determines the position of your lower jaw. If the posture of the rest of the body causes mechanical strain to the lower jaw, the lower jawbone is shifted back, and the head is shifted forward.
With proper alignment of the head and the neck, the ear and the shoulder are in alignment. As the head goes forward in relation to the shoulders, such as during computer use, when sending text message, and other sedentary activities, the muscles of the TMJ joints, as well as all the neck and shoulder muscles are contracted and working overtime to support the weight of the head upright against the constant force of gravity.
The muscles of the jaw complex are small and perform precise functions to open and close the mouth, they are not intended to support additional weight of the head caused by forward head posture. As the head goes forward, the jaw goes back, and the muscles become restricted. Muscular stress results in an inability to move the jaw smoothly and freely, resulting in clicking and cracking of the jaw, tension, stiffness, and often pain.
The muscles of the neck is also affected. Trigger points arise in these muscles, and patients refer to this as neck pain. Many patients don’t make the connection between TMJ problems and neck posture, so often patients will assume that they slept wrong or are feeling stress in the muscles attaching the neck and shoulders. To correct neck trigger points and posture without addressing the TMJ joint and associated musculature would be incomplete. The inverse is also true. If you go to a dental specialist to have the TMJ fixed without correcting neck posture, the problem will almost certainly return.
Because we all recognize the relationship now between head posture and TMJ disorder, it is highly recommended that each of you has a posture image taken and a complete postural analysis performed to analyze your posture and see if you are predisposed to having TMJ disorder. If we can stop it from occurring now would that be a good thing? Ya! Of course, that would be ideal.
If your muscles seem tight, and the range of motion of the jaw or neck is stiff, you can also consider getting a massage to break up the trigger points. This will help you to relax the contracted musculature, reducing stress to the head, neck and face. It is important to keep in mind, however, massage, will only cause temporary relief. If the postural alignment is still off the muscles will become tensed and contracted again with time. Correcting muscular dysfunction patterns and postural distortion patterns together is the best option for sustained relief of TMJ pain.
When dysfunction arises of any joint complex throughout the body, in this case the TMJ, it is ALWAYS important to move the joint. Lack of movement will only make the situation worse because the joint will stiffen, then movement will get more and more difficult over time. If pain and symptoms arise, continue to do the exercises we just discussed to have continual movement of the affected joint. If you notice inflammation you can apply ice to the affected area. If not, ice is not necessary. Movement is fundamental to the healing process.
Licensed Massage Therapist, MA #75533
350 Treemonte Dr., Orange City, FL 32763