Monday, August 22, 2011

How Alexander Technique Can Relieve TMJ

Luke Ford writes

As I ate an egg the other day, a few chews in, I found my jaw exhausted already. I was ready to swallow and to stop bothering it.

I’ve had TMJ (Temporomandibular joint disorder) for more than 25 years as a result of all sorts of needless and nervous tightening of my neck muscles.

When I went to see a physical therapist a couple of years ago, he said I had the worst TMJ he had ever seen.

About ten years ago, my dentist prescribed a nightguard, which cost me about $300 and did nothing to relieve my aching jew. Perhaps it made it worse? On the positive side, it has saved wear and tear on my teeth enamel. When I don’t wear, my dentist can tell by the damage.

Anyway, I found a couple of good interviews with dentist and Alexander Technique teacher Dr. Martin Goldman.

Martin: “After I had been in my Alexander training, I realized that many of my patients were suffering from harmful muscular holdings in the head, neck and back. If I would’ve just been keen enough to observe these people as they walked to the chair and sat in the chair, I might’ve been able to help them with their pain.”

“My understanding of pain of the head, neck and back is as Dr. Janet Travell, President Kennedy’s personal physician, said that pain in the head, neck and back is 90% muscular holding patterns. I believe that to be an understatement.”

“There’s a growing trend among dentists to recognize that movements in the lower jaw are not something that happens in a bone to bone movement but that these movements are controlled by muscles.”

“The solution is to release these muscular holding patterns. By freeing the head and neck, there can be benefits throughout the body in balance and coordination.”

“Movement of the lower jaw is guided by muscles rather than by bones and joints.”

Robert Rickover: “There seems to be a law of human movement that when your idea of how something operates matches physical reality, the movement is going to be smoother than if your concept differs from reality. Your saying find out what reality is and use that as your guide to movement.”

Martin: “How we think about movement influences our movement.”

“Try clenching your teeth and see how that affects your breathing. By comparison, say the word ‘Boston’ slowly and then check in with your breath.

“The word introduces movement into your lower jaw. It gives you a rough approximation of the physiologic rest position of the lower mandible.

“All the muscles that open and close your lower jaw are in balance and are at their most ready for movement. They’re balanced. There’s the least amount of chemical activity in those muscles to maintain tonus.

“In this physiologic rest position, your lips will come lightly together and your teeth will be apart. Any time your teeth are touching during the course of the day, there’s a good chance that that is a dysfunctional or pathological position for you. You’re going to do some harm to yourself.

“Somebody suffering from muscular tension should monitor the space between their teeth and give themselves permission to allow the lower jaw to give in to gravity, to sense the gravitational pull on the lower jaw, it’s a heavy piece of bone, but don’t give in a millimeter more than is necessary.

“Most joints in the body, gravity will settle them unless you have upright reflexes occur. That’s why you are shorter at the end of the day.”

“Recognize the gravitational pull on your lower jaw. You don’t need to hold it up. You don’t need to have it over-close. If you can sense your physiologic rest position, your overall well-being will improve.”

Robert: “An interesting experiment would be to see how little work you can do to open your mouth.”

Martin: “If I’m driving in traffic, I’ll often catch myself and ask, why am I holding my jaw like this? There’s plenty of stimulus involved in driving and if you can pause and allow your jaw to be free. Not a hectoring instruction to yourself. Just a wish. Just a mere thought. Wouldn’t it be nice if my jaw muscles were not tense? You’ll see some major effects, including how you hold your head.”

Robert: “What about the various devices dentists prescribe with TMJ?”

Martin: “Typically dentists will prescribe mouth guards. You can buy them in the drug store. Those mouth guards, when you close up into them, most people with TMJ, have an eccentric chewing pattern. There’s tightness and holding that makes the jaw close in a way that causes this pain.

“When you bite into this appliances, you’re just replicating the dysfunction. Most people will wind up worse off. I would recommend seeking a neuro-muscularly trained dentist. Let him track the movements of your jaw so your mouthguard is made at the physiologic rest position.

“There’s an inter-oral orthodic, a mouthguard made in this fashion. There was a dentist in Halifax who had a lobster fisherman come into his office. This fisherman had terrible headaches. The dentist made him an orthodic that allowed his muscles to come into equilibrium.

“He had him back a week later. The guy said, my headaches are gone but more amazingly, I was out on my boat and I could pull up the pots and lift them in a way I couldn’t do in 20 years.”

“By balancing the musculature in the head and neck, he allowed the head to come to equilibrium. This dentist developed a pure performance mouthguard.”

“Try clenching your jaw and then turn your head to the side. Now face forward again. Say ‘Boston.’ Let your jaw have space between the teeth. Now make that same movement. You’ll notice increased flexibility and ease. You can’t have a free jaw without a free neck and vice versa.”

“One of the pioneers who gave scientific verification to the Alexander Technique was Frank Pierce Jones who called the Atlanto-occipital joint the prime distribution point for bodily stress. If you can intervene at that point to introduce ease and to let go of muscular contraction in that area, then the net pulling the rest of you inward and tighter is loosened.”

The New York Times reports:

Mr. Gillis is among a small but growing number of athletes wearing what manufacturers like to call “performance mouthpieces” while cycling, running or weight training. One of the newest tools in a performance-enhancement arsenal, these mouthpieces are light, flexible pieces of molded plastic that fit over the teeth — and are only vaguely reminiscent of that retainer from junior high school or the bulky mouth guards worn by football players. 

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