Having a forward head posture puts a lot of strain on the muscles of your neck and jaw. Having a “forward head” means that your head (and often one or both shoulders, too) are in front of your body.
Where should your head be instead? Well, when you were a toddler, it was pretty much directly over your body and that’s still where it should be. Due to habits, furniture, car seats, work and life, sometimes our head moves out in front of us. That causes a lot of symptoms and TMJ pain, or pain and difficulty moving your jaw, can be one of those symptoms.
If chewing has been painful for you…
or if it’s been hard to open or move your jaw…
or if it feels as though your jaw is dislocated…let’s talk about muscles and joints.
There are muscles all over your body and head including in and around your mouth. There are muscles that let you open and close your jaw, which is a joint. Two of these muscles are on each side of your TMJ (temporomandibular joint.) They are called pterygoid muscles. They are tucked in behind your lower jawbone.
When the pterygoid muscles get tight, or develop trigger points, they can cause difficulty opening your mouth. They can also cause pain in the TMJ (jaw joint) area, difficulty breathing through your nose, ringing in your ears and “sinus” pain (but it’s really not a sinus issue.) You can release, or relax, these muscles by pressing into them with your fingers.
There are two types of pterygoids. Let’s call them “lower” and “upper.”
You can press up under your jaw bone with your thumb or finger, at the end of the jaw closest to your ear, and press into the “lower” pterygoid. This might be very painful. That’s a sign that you are in the right place. The pressure from your finger causes the muscle to relax because it improves circulation. You may be tender afterward if the spot is very painful, so take it easy on yourself. (But don’t give up.)
The next muscle is the major cause of TMJ dysfunction and pain. To get to the “upper” pterygoid, you need to reach into your mouth with a finger. The muscle you are looking for is way in the back of your upper jaw, beyond your back teeth. Push your finger back as far beyond the teeth as you can and then make tiny massaging movements with your finger tip in (toward your throat) and up (toward the top of your head.) It will be very painful if these muscles are tight or have trigger points.
If it is very painful when you press on the spots, you know you have found a cause of your pain.
Of course, you need to have very short finger nails to do this work. You must press deeply enough to determine whether these muscles are causing your TMJ issues. Fortunately (or not?) the muscles in your mouth will be tender and that tells you whether they need to be released.
Even though you may have some tenderness, and it might take several sessions of self-treatment, you will see a decrease in your TMJ symptoms. Use your body wisdom to determine how deeply and how often you should do this. If you feel that you have bruising afterward from the pressure (typical when muscles are very tight), you can give your muscles a few days to get past the bruising before you treat them again.