Today, one of our expert 2nd Street District massage therapists, talks jaw pain — and how to ease the tension we create for ourselves.
Many of my clients experience jaw pain and tension — it’s very common. Too often, we clench and grind our teeth as a response to stress, a habit that occurs when we try to concentrate, or sometimes, it manifests itself as a subconscious holding pattern we’re not even aware of.
Let’s start from the beginning. In orthopedic medicine, there is a prevailing idea that the mandible (jaw bone) and the pelvis “talk” to one another. Both of theses bones are directly connected to one another via the spine. The jaw connects to the hyoid bone, which dictates posture and alignment in the neck, along with the atlas. And, on the pelvic end, the pelvis and the sacrum work in tandem to balance us in an upright position at the base of the spine. In short, jaw tension can throw off your entire posture — and it can even cause both hip and lower back pain.
Tension in the jaw can lead to lots of symptomatic pain in the body. For example: did you know that your Masseter muscles — muscles that run from your cheek to your jaw — can exert upwards of 250 pounds of pressure per bite? Now, if you think about that kind of semi-constant tension in your head, it makes sense why those who suffer from chronic jaw tension experience headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and whole-body misalignment.
Another culprit of jaw tension, pain, and TMJ is Malocclusion. Malocclusion is when your teeth meet in a misaligned way as the two dental arches approach each other as the jaws close. Almost everyone has some form of malocclusion, and, generally, orthodontists are only interested in your malocclusion if it causes you pain.
Many orthodontic surgeons think that the best way to treat severe malocclusion is through surgery, believing that night guards, retainers, and other dental applications will not help. What many orthodontist don’t take into consideration is that chronic jaw tension is more often than not a symptom of anxiety and high stress. More importantly it’s a postural choice we make. Whether we are aware that we are making that choice is another question entirely.
Make Yourself Aware
Body awareness is a somatic skill that must be honed in everyone, but especially when you’re dealing with chronic pain and stress. Meditation and physical practices like yoga, pilates, dance, or sports can help you become aware of the inner machinations and connections between your body and mind. See if you can catch yourself in the act of clenching and grinding your teeth.When this happens engage in the mantra, “soften jaw and breathe.” Notice the breath in your body when your teeth are clenched: is it deep or shallow? Rapid or slow? Notice the position of your shoulder blades. Inhale deeply, shrug your shoulders up by your ears tightly, then exhale and drop them completely. Do this several times to allow all of the muscles in your shoulders to release.
Remember you are in control of what you are aware of. Where awareness goes, energy grows.
In a spa setting, chronic jaw tension and TMJ pain can be addressed, as long as the client is consistent with massage appointments. Regular-focused masseter, pterygoid, scalp, face, and neck massage can relieve built-up tension and pain. Therapists trained in Craniosacral Therapy can address jaw pain and tension via manual adjustment.
The spa environment, and even the act of carving out time on a consistent basis solely for self-care and self-love, is a huge step toward managing stress. Often, massage therapists and other spa employees are a lot like ESS (Emergency Stress Services). Ideally though, we want our clients to live their best, pain, and stress-free lives. In this day and age, massage and other self-care services are not luxury experiences, but necessary investments in overall well-being and health.
If you are experiencing chronic jaw or if you suffer from TMJ, know that you have support from milk + honey. We have an amazing team of massage therapists who can help you if you are experiencing acute discomfort, and we can refer you to other wellness professionals in the area who can help you tackle the issue from a multidimensional approach.