What is TMJ Disorder and Techniques to Relieve Symptoms

Posted by ReSet Lounge
Posted on: Jun 27, 2022 2:14:34 PM


So many people have a tight neck and tight jaws — which lead to clenching or grinding their teeth. This results in not only physical impacts, like pain while chewing and sore joints and surrounding muscles, but it also leads to engaging the fight or flight response in the nervous system.

What is TMJ Disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic, ”The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. You have one joint on each side of your jaw. TMJ disorders — a type of temporomandibular disorder or TMD — can cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement." This can lead to headaches, migraines, sleep issues, chronic neck, and shoulder pain, as well as anxiety and stress due to the inability to “physically” relax. 

How can symptoms around TMJ be alleviated?

There are definitely a few easy ways to release the jaw. Debbie Radvar, of Healthy Integration LLC, sees her clients at ReSet and has great success in this area — so we interviewed her to learn her perspective. The protocols she uses to help with TMJ issues also apply to clients suffering from migraines and neck tension. In her practice, Debbie has found some interesting things over the years in helping many find relief.

What are Common Symptoms You See in People with TMJ Pain?

  • Teeth Grinding: People who clench or grind their teeth often try a mouth device when sleeping. A device may keep you from grinding, but the real reason you're grinding is that your jaw isn't lining up. And often, it's not lining up because the muscles surrounding that joint are tight. So, as the muscles tighten they also shorten and pull the jaw out of alignment.

    • With the devices, the jaw remains more open, which can then pinch the C1 and C2 vertebrae.

    • Debbie feels one of the reasons people clench is it's our body's way to create acetylcholine, which helps release and slacken muscles. When a muscle contracts, the muscles tighten and shorten, the body then responds by releasing acetylcholine to release and length the contracted muscles.  

    • Ultimately, if other protocols can address the jaw alignment, the sleep devices are not necessary or at least don’t aggravate the situation.

  • Tight Neck Muscles: Just about everyone with TMJ issues has tight neck muscles. Your jaw follows your shoulders, which follow your hips, which follow your feet. So, you always want to balance the body and look at the spine and the structure of the whole body. If you adjust the jaw and neck but not what's below, then it's going to pull it right back out. Getting to the root of the postural issue vs. just treating the compensation is key to creating lasting change.

  • Heightened Nervous System: Pain or strain in the mouth, jaw, and neck area keeps your parasympathetic nervous system in fight or flight.  

  • Tongue Issues: Releasing the tongue really releases the deep muscles of the neck and throat, but when it releases, it also helps disengage the brain from that fight or flight. When it's tight, our nervous system becomes over-facilitated. It's like when you have tight pants on all day and you're just feeling aggravated!

  • PTSD Symptoms: Clenching, straining and other physical actions that lead to TMJ disorders can result from psychological reactions.  For example, if you’ve ever been in a car accident or a near miss, physical reactions to car headlights you may not even be aware of create a stress response in the body, which often includes clenching the jaw.

Holistic Approaches to Resolving TMJ Disorders – Applications of PNF Stretching Protocols

PNF Stretching

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) is a form of assisted, isometric stretching used to lengthen muscles, dramatically improving range of motion. Debbie has uniquely modified the principles of PNF stretching to form a protocol for resolving TMJ disorders, migraines, and neck and back pain.

This protocol evolved in Debbie’s search to support a client she was working with who had horrendous torticollis (a condition presented as twisting of the neck that causes the head to rotate and tilt at an angle). Debbie recalls that this woman was really tight; her neck muscles were like cement, her neck was stuck in one position, and her tongue was stuck in a spasm on the roof of her mouth for almost a year. It was heartbreaking and Debbie couldn't get this woman’s muscles to release.

One day, Debbie tried doing the PNF stretching she had learned to release the psoas muscle but applied it to the mouth. Amazingly, the client’s tongue immediately released. Eventually, everything else released following that — the throat muscles and the neck muscles.

  • The network of muscles between our neck and throat are constantly engaged because we are always swallowing, talking, and engaging our deep throat muscles. So if they tighten, they cannot really release without consciously relaxing them. This not only leads to tightness and restriction, but the cranial nerves, including the vagus nerve, are restricted when our necks are tight and this unhealthy constriction puts and/or keeps your body in a state of fight or flight.

  • Continuing on down the body, the neck flexors come down and hook into the second rib. So when these shorten, it creates a shallow breathing pattern. You're not breathing into the belly and you can't expand past the top ribs. So again, that makes your body think you're in fight or flight — which then adds to the feedback loop often causing one to tighten up more. 

  • Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It doesn't matter. At this point, it's all engaged. When Debbie works on TMJ disorder or neck and head issues, whether it's children or adults, the minute the tongue and jaw are released, everyone will spontaneously just take a huge breath. Almost like coming up for air after being underwater. They relax and sometimes go into a still point, which allows the spine to release and unwind. Sometimes, it’s the first time they can turn their head right or left. It is very passive and the body unwinds on its own. Nothing is forced and the neck and jaw now have slack in the muscles so they can release and allows the muscles to lengthen.  

In learning ways to apply the PNF stretching concepts, Debbie always performs the isometric stretching, for the sternocleidomastoid muscles (from ear to neck) and engages and releases the jaw in every direction. Then she follows with the throat muscles. Before applying the principles of PNF stretching, Debbie could work on someone's neck for half an hour, working on a short muscle, and it would relax, but it didn’t lengthen. So applying an isometric, it slacks the muscle and it lengthens, and improves the range of motion almost immediately.

We asked Debbie: can this protocol help people beyond TMJ disorders? 

Back to the common symptoms: If you have two or more symptoms, it can equal a diagnosis. So anyone with discomfort or issues in the head, neck, throat, or tongue area can benefit.  

  • Speech Issues: Debbie has had success with children with speech impediments. Some kids that she has seen had a tight tongue and were in fact tongue tied, which is a condition impacting the underside of the tongue. If it's really tight, for example, perhaps a child can't stick their tongue all the way out and Debbie will use her technique to release it. Afterward, their speech almost always improves.

  • Migraines: Many clients who’ve suffered from migraines can gain tremendous relief when the muscles in the head and neck are released.

  • Emotional Release: Often structural issues have emotional undercurrents. Another chicken and egg situation. An emotional issue causes clenching. Clenching causes problems leading to pain and discomfort and around and around. During Debbie’s sessions, she also uses muscle testing, tapping, craniosacral massage, and other techniques to release any emotional issues that could be part of the equation. 

There are so many fascinating things to explore as we learn how connected our bodies are and how one area can impact another! If you are interested in PNF stretching or other Holistic Modalities offered at ReSet Lounge, click the link below.


Topics: Restore, Recovery, Latest Trends, Wellness, Whole Wellbeing, Natural Personal Care, Self-care, Pain Management, Relaxation