TMJ Dysfunction

The collective symptom pattern often referred to as “TMJ,” (also known or seen as TMJD, TMD, or TMJ syndrome) is a very common and widely diagnosed issue affecting three million Americans a year according to the Mayo Clinic. Presumably, there are many more undiagnosed cases as well. TMJ stands for “Temporal Mandibular Joint,” and is simply the name of the joint itself, not they symptom pattern. If you have pain in your TMJ (we all have two TMJ’s), then it is most accurate to say you have “TMJ syndrome.”

The TMJ is a modified hinge joint (“Ginglymoarthrodical” to be technical) that attaches the jaw bone to the cranium and, more specifically, the temporal bone. It is the first joint that we as humans really learn to control and utilize. We were able to suckle, cry, gurgle and so on before most other joints of the body were fully operational. As such, it is a primal area of the body that can house many old patterns and emotions.

Structurally, if the joint tightens and moves less or inappropriately, the effects can be seen reaching throughout the entire body. Closest in proximity is the neck, and clients often suffer from neck pain that is a down stream effect from the TMJ not functioning properly. There are direct correlations and connections from the TMJ to the neck extensor and flexor muscles, as well as a cranial-dental theory that the mandible can literally knock the upper cervical vertebra out of place

Because the cranium and pelvis mirror each other in gait and balance, the TMJ can be seen affecting the hips and pelvis, altering movement patterns and affecting entire lines of fascia like the “spiral” and “lateral lines” as coined by Thomas Myers.

There are also structural issues elsewhere, for example the the feet, knees, hips, and shoulders, that can affect TMJ function and anyone’s comfort. The temporalis muscle, a large flat muscle partly responsible for TMJ movement, is top of the movement chain as we sit and stand in gravity. Therefore, this muscle, and thus the joint itself, may suffer when attempting to re-balance the body to keep the eyes and ears level for equilibrium.

It has been estimated that the strongest muscle in the human body, per weight or square inch, is the masseter muscle, a thick little muscle attached to the mandible. The masseter is a huge contributor to TMJ movement and closing of the mouth. It is this strength and connection to the deep front line of fascia (deep core) that enables us to help strengthen other parts of our bodies by simply clenching the jaw. If we are continually using this pattern over and over again, creating a habit, it is more than likely that we will manifest some sort of dysfunction in the jaw. Pain is often the main complaint, and pain is a sign that something needs to change.

Emotionally speaking, the TMJ is an epicenter for stress. It is surmised that the psoas is the first muscle to contract and tighten in a fight or flight response. This pelvic and low back muscle has direct fascial connections to the TMJ. It is highly likely that both the psoas and jaw share responsibility in emotional-tension lockdowns, but it is often the jaw that clamps down over and over with stress and upper chest breathing, altering full body locomotion and mechanics. Denver Pain & Performance Solutions uses several techniques (most notably Cellular Release Therapy®) for helping clients resolve emotional issues, thereby helping clients get to the heart of these stressors which in turn allows them to relax their jaws.

Chronic issues with the TMJ can even impact the cranial bones, their positioning, and therefore facial symmetry. The temporalis muscle can literally pull the parietal bone down into a suture (cranial joint), causing jamming and other far reaching effects in the nervous system. Fortunately, the good news is that these issues can be resolved with specific types of work, and all of it is offered at DPPS!

Through gentle Cranial work, we can work with the bones of the cranium to open and create new space where there was none before, as well as release adhesions. This is a “hardware” approach: making changes to actual structures such as muscle, bone and tissue so that new blood flow, oxygen, innervation, relaxation, and general healing may have a place to occur.

There is also a “software” approach to looking at how the brain and body communicate together. This is done utilizing the advanced functional neurology tool of Proprioceptive-Deep Tendon Reflex® (P-DTR®) to help rewire the communication lines to and from the TMJ, allowing the brain and body to be on the same page. This neurological tool gently works with nerves and specific stimuli so that the client is not tortured with deep manual work into muscles of the mouth or cranium.

Lastly, movement integration, education and self care can be critical to helping those TMJ sufferers live a happy and full life pain free. This type of work is regularly folded into our work with clients at DPPS.

If you have any questions about TMJ syndrome, your own specific symptoms, or whether you’re a candidate for our work, please contact us.