What Is TMJ?

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) is a growing problem, mostly affecting women. TMJ presents with pain in the joint between the jaw and the skull, commonly with clicking or popping, uneven opening of the jaw and sometimes an inability to fully open or close the jaw (or move it at all) and headaches. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) also is fairly commonly associated with TMJ because of the pressure inflammation of the TMJ musculature can place on the mechanics of the ears. Common causes include stress, repressed anger, poor orthodontics and car accidents and similar trauma, but can also be related to hormone levels. In my experience, however, while not always the case, that many of these situations are exacerbations of a global (full body) or local (neck) instability that results in tension being placed in the muscles of the jaw and TMJ and it just pushes it over the edge to showing real symptoms.

Because we name and describe individual muscles, organs and bones we, very much including many medical practitioners, tend to think of the body as a collection of distinct individual parts. While this is in a way true, I like to frame the situation by having you imagine the body as a wicker basket woven together where you can’t pull on one fiber without affecting all of the rest, instead of something built with Legos where we can just change or remove a piece in isolation and the rest generally holds together just fine. When a joint or area of the body isn’t functioning, the rest of the body has to change how it functions to compensate for the under or over work of a part.

Most of the 'Deep Front Line' which is commonly an instrumental element of TMJ dysfunctions.

Most of the ‘Deep Front Line’ which is commonly an instrumental element of TMJ dysfunctions.

Just like our bones along the spine that form the core foundation of our body as a structure, there is also a soft tissue equivalent of muscles, fascia (fibrous cable like tissue), and other tissue that is crucial for our structural integrity. This particular line is called the deep front line, and travels from the bottom of your toes up the inner thigh, through the ‘core’ and torso all the way up to the neck, tongue, and yes, the TMJ musculature. I will speak more about these ‘anatomy trains’ lines of soft tissue elsewhere and will link it here once that’s up, but for now imagine this deep front line like a cable going through a dozen posts, carrying tension from the first to the last but attaching at each station in-between. Now imagine that one stretch of this cable became too lax, and for the whole structure to work, another section had to tighten up. The same in reverse happens as well if one stretch is too tight.

This is in many ways how the deep front line works in your body, which makes up what we call the ‘intrinsic core;’ the muscles that are more than most responsible for the stability of your joints and organs. This means that when one muscle in this ‘core’ line stops working when it should, another in this line tightens to give overall integrity to the core to allow the body to feel safe enough to go through its daily motions. The problem is that while tension is maintained overall throughout the body, the area that has too low tension and the area that has too much tension becomes mechanically unbalanced and it can change the way joints move and force is transferred, making things hurt, especially for the muscle or tissue that is now tighter and thereby doing ‘more of the work.’ The smaller the tissue that is over working, the larger the tissue that isn’t working, and the higher the intensity or duration that this relationship continues the worse it’s likely going to feel.

The muscles of the TMJ happen to be one of the most common muscles in the deep front line that picks up the slack when others down the line aren’t working properly. Because the jaw and the TMJ gets used thousands of times each day it’s already working very hard and is thereby prone to slot in place and become painfully symptomatic to boot. The diaphragm and the pelvic floor are commonly part of these problems as well for some of the same kinds of reasons.

So what do we do about this? Simply put we find out what in that deep front line isn’t working, what’s turning them off (which may or may not be the painful TMJ tissue) and then with that part of the line carrying its appropriate amount of tension at the right time, the TMJ typically stops causing problems simply because it doesn’t have to carry extra tension any longer. There are some other possible causes, such as an unstable neck, scars (especially childhood scars, but any of which have a very strong impact on the neural function and connectivity of muscles), which we can also work to fix. Back and neck pain are also commonly associated with enough time because of what muscles aren’t working.

Do you have jaw, TMJ or temple pain, discomfort, popping/clicking, or poor movement? Get assessed and see if we can help fix the problem permanently! For more information take a look at the main page on Neurokinetic Therapy Here and call us at 503-730-3038 or via email at Thrivebodybalance@gmail.com today!

TMJ testimonial