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My first introduction to TMJ dysfunction was many years ago while I was still a dancer. I was seeing a girl at the time, who was renowned for her love of chatting, however one day I popped round only to be greeted by a rather sheepish looking face and an uncharacteristic silence.

“My jaw is in agony and I can’t fully open it” she mumbled “I think I need to go to hospital”.

After spending five hours in a Whitechapel A&E department on a Saturday night we finally got seen by a rather exhausted looking doctor who smirked, handed over a prescription for muscle relaxants and said “It looks like TMJ to me. I’m afraid you will have to drink soup for the next few days and no talking!”

“Could I have a prescription for the latter” I replied and in return received a sharp back elbow to the ribs.

The good news is the heroine in our story lived to speak again (she never did last two days though) and I decided to investigate the mysteries of the TMJ.

Today my case history sheet has a rather exhaustive list of possible options under ‘dental history’.

  • Do you Grind your teeth at night?
  • Do you wake up with a sore jaw and head aches?
  • Do you chew gum?
  • Do you have any history of significant dental surgery?
  • Have you ever suffered with whip lash or head and neck trauma?
  • Do you wear dentures?
  • Have you been punched in the jaw, or fallen on your face?
  • Do you suffer with tinnitus?
  • Any difficulty speaking, swallowing or clicking of the jaw
  • Have you ever suffered from TMJ dysfunction

What is interesting is that since including this subheading well over 3/4 of my clients find something to mention with a large proportion suffering grinding at night and head aches.

When Neurokinetic Therapy muscle testing the muscles around the jaw there is a massive relationship between inhibited inner core muscles and facilitated jaw muscles. The picture below shows the muscles that share the fascial sling system of the inner core. It may seem crazy but if certain muscles are not working efficiently others will up regulate to take up the slack and these over worked muscles start to become painful.

TMJ dysfunction

Deep front line TMJ dysfunction

TMJ dysfunction case history

A recent example was a lady who post pregnancy had been suffering with chronic sacroiliac pain (the joints where the spine meet the pelvis). As her back pain persisted she started to notice that she was grinding her teeth at night and her dentist had mentioned that she might want to consider wearing a night guard. Unfortunately she was late for her appointment  so we did a quick assessment and on discovering her compensations performed a quick release of her jaw muscles followed by an activation exercise for her transverse abdominals. After teaching her homework which involved using an electric tooth brush as an inter oral massage device, followed by some dead bug activation drills we booked her in for the following week. As the next week arrived I was prepared to investigate further, however in walked a smiling patient who said I am not quite sure why I have come back as all my pain has gone. I love sessions like this this as it gives us a chance to move people further up the curve from pain free towards optimal function. We spent 2 hours bullet proofing her system with crawling patterns and gait patterns, loading her muscular system in 3D and giving her the confidence to move and trust her body again.

So as the title suggested TMJ dysfunction or 100% function? If it was not for those tiny jaw muscles holding the body together there would have been utter chaos. Those poor muscles were tight and sore because they had been working so hard to make up for everything else. If we had just released those muscles or dry needled them we would have effectively removed the crutch that the body was leaning on and sent it into free fall. By reintegrating movement back into the system we gave back the support that it had been craving. Next time you feel yourself clench your teeth when you are undoing a jar or lifting a heavy bag of shopping ask yourself why, you might just be onto something.