Let’s do a little test…

While sitting with good posture, see if you can fit 3 of your knuckles into your mouth.
Now, slump over with bad posture and do the same.
Do you notice a difference?

What this tells us, is that your posture plays an impact on what is happening with your jaw.

Keep this in mind, we’ll come back to this. But first, let’s talk about an important joint of the jaw. The temporomandibular joint, more commonly know as the TMJ is the joint that connects your jawbone to your skull. While seemingly a small joint in the body, a dysfunction here can lead to all sorts of issues.  The most obvious ones are jaw pain, clicking or locking of the jaw and difficulty chewing. Less commonly known ones are bruxism (or teeth grinding), toothache with no known dental cause and referred pain such as headaches.

The TMJ is a bi-arthroidal hinge joint. This type of joint allows for numerous different movements of the jaw. The complexity of these movements can be performed by a number of different muscles. If we look at a relatively simple movement such as chewing, the jaw goes through opening, closing, rotation and translation of the joint. Now let’s think about how regularly we chew, in combination with all the other movement of the jaw such as talking, and the load that goes through this relatively small joint is immense.

Looking slightly further away from the TMJ itself, it is important to take into consideration any of the positions that impact upon the position of the jaw. This means anything closer to the joint itself, such as the neck, but also things further away such as your rib cage, hips or even your feet. With the way your muscles are attached to your skeleton, as you get movement in one area of the body it can impact another area of the body in either a positive or a negative way. This might be why you have heard stories of people’s lower backs improve by improving foot posture, as an example. And this is why when you shoved your fist in your mouth just a minute ago, it got a whole lot harder when sitting with poor posture. This is similar in the way we assess and treat the TMJ, we look at taking into consideration your movement patterns and what is most likely impacting upon the jaw, rather than just the localised structure alone. That way long term changes are made, rather than just treating the symptom alone.

Another non-local factor to consider with jaw pain is stress. As a massage therapist, I feel like I bang on about this a lot, but stress has so many flow-on effects to other areas of the body and its function. So, let’s break it down to why this is relevant specifically to the TMJ. Stress is a biochemical response that affects the whole body. What this effectively means for our muscles is they become tighter/increase in tone and don’t move quite as effectively as when we are less stressed. For your TMJ, this means as the muscles become tighter and the space between your skull and jawbone (mandible) decreases. The decrease in space in the joint can lead to clenching or grinding of your teeth, which in turn creates further tension and tightness of the surrounding muscles.

The Suprahyoid Muscles - Stylohyoid - Digastric - TeachMeAnatomy

So how can we help?

The main objective is to find out the primary driver of why the TMJ is problematic. What we will go through is an assessment of both the jaw itself and look at your overall posture. By taking a more global approach, we are able to look at other impacting structures and treat them accordingly, so while improving movement at the TMJ itself, it can improve global movement too. Massage therapy is able to decrease the tone of muscles and improve the range of movement of these muscles. With the addition of home care exercises, we are able to help make long term changes.

If this sounds like you, get in touch with the team and we can make a plan with you!

Luke McCallum is a SportsLab massage therapist and recovery expert. He is passionate about treating holistically. He is also a seasoned runner with some impressive achievements, especially for someone with such little legs.