Jaw pain, teeth grinding, and teeth clenching are becoming normal parts of our modern existence. With the 24/7 onslaught of new information, notifications, marketing messages, etc. we rarely get much of a break from the stress of the outside world. When problems we are dealing with or just aware of go unresolved, we "chew" on these issues...all night long. It's a primal fight or flight reaction to stress. Basically we are baring our teeth to it. Prolonged teeth clenching can lead to headaches, neck pain, and shoulder pain.
Unfortunately, while this outdated nervous system programming was probably very useful for fending off bears and other predators, it doesn't do a lick of good against the stress of your Facebook news feed. However, with advanced massage therapy, you can break the cycle of tension and let go of the pain and tension.
Elizabeth Dashiell interviews Senior Massage Therapist Laura Sniper on Jaw Pain & TMJ
Elizabeth: - What kind of pain do you most commonly address in our clientele at Bodyworks DW?
Laura Sniper: One of the most common things we address that I really enjoy treating is jaw pain. A lot of people don’t realize how much jaw tension they hold! In my experience, the work can be very transformative for the client.
We also see a lot of people who experience neck pain. Most people can say they’ve had neck tension at some point in their lives... And when we carry a lot of neck tension, often times that will spread into jaw tension. Over time, we end up teeth clenching throughout the day and in our sleep. When we ignore jaw pain or tension long-term it can potentially contribute to the development of TMJ disorder.
E: What is TMJ Disorder?
LS: - It’s a disorder in the joint of the jaw (TemporoMandibular Joint). The point of this joint is to help us move and open our mouths. It's located in very close proximity to the first vertebrae of our neck so tension in one almost always means tension in the other.
Here’s what I do when someone comes in expressing this kind of discomfort. First, I look at the client’s posture. I see how much of it seems to be coming from a forward head (commonly known as “text neck”). Is the pain one-sided? Is the client leaning one way more than the other? How much of it is from one jaw joint working harder than the other? I start by correcting those imbalances.
Of course, I’ll always do local work. Often, I work the most immediate muscle of the jaw called the masseter. You can feel this muscle if you place your hand below your cheekbone.
Did you know that there are jaw muscles that can only be worked on from inside your mouth?
LS: A lot of people benefit from an LMT working on the inside of the mouth.
Not everyone is comfortable with that kind of work at first, but...everyone that I work on feels amazing afterwards!
E: What exactly are you doing when you do inner-mouth work?
LS: Well, first, we always wear medical gloves. We make sure we have consent and communicate with the client what’s going on. Second, we work on the pterygoid muscles. They are located in sides of the mouth and are used primarily for chewing. In fact, it’s the muscle we use when we clench. Anyone who clenches their jaw regularly, has had lock-jaw, or has had whiplash or a concussion is prone to holding tension here.
E: Is that muscle sensitive?
LS: The work can feel intense but afterwards people feel transformed. I’ve heard pretty much all my clients talk about feeling more range of motion in the jaw and an open neck. People who suffer from chronic headaches will claim to have less headaches or no headaches at all. Of course, this is only the case when the headache was caused by jaw tension.
In my opinion inner mouth work to relieve jaw tension is really important and often overlooked! It’s most definitely worth the time to get addressed.
E: I agree! I think I need it!!
Looking for some temporary relief? Try using a Gua Sha Tool to relax your jaw and neck muscles in between massage treatments: