Tiny muscles that make a big impact
So many clients come into my office with tension headaches. Some of these headaches are caused by upper neck tension, and some are caused by tension in and around the jaw. In this post, we'll explore how you can release some of the jaw muscles yourself at home. If you catch yourself grinding your teeth at night, or even during a stressful time during the day, give these moves a try. The more you can learn about your own body and it's patterns, the more you can learn how to ease distressful symptoms.
There are about a score of muscles on your face, but two are particularly culpable for jaw tension: Masseter and Lateral Pterygoid. The masseter is the strongest muscle in the body, with a force of up to 200 pounds of pressure on the molars, allowing us to chew and grind. It's relative is the lateral pterygoid, which is directly posterior to it, closer to the ear. Both of these muscles move the jaw at the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ).In many TMJ disorders, these two muscles are tight and not moving properly. The masseter attaches at about the bottom of the cheekbone and the bottom of the jaw; the lateral pterygoid from the TMJ to the sphenoid bone, which you can feel as about the edge of your cheekbone closest to your ear.
Starting at the bottom of your cheekbone, apply gentle pressure starting at about the middle of the cheek and moving toward the ear. Note any specific tender points along this path. Moving to directly in front of the ear, apply a gentle pressure again toward the back of the head; the intent here is to move a little lymph first toward the back of the ear, then directly down, toward the neck. Spend a little time here with the flat part of a few fingers, and note the feeling of a gentle fluid flush – that's your lymph moving.
Now a strange maneuver: Hook your little finger into your ear with your palm facing out. The idea is to feel the attachment of that lateral pterygoid as it lays directly inside the front of your ear. Open and close your jaw a few times to feel the muscle move back and forth, holding a firm pressure against the front of that inner ear. Repeat moving the jaw about 10 times, then remove the finger to release the muscle.
Move to the TMJ itself, the very edge of your jawbone. With two or three fingers and the palm facing out, apply moderate pressure to the joint, while trying to keep your jaw as relaxed as possible. A good visualization is to imagine your jaw touching the floor. Pushing that jaw all the way down helps the joint release.
Move along the bottom of the jawbone, again with palm facing out, applying moderate pressure with two or three fingers. Notice that there may be a number of knotty trigger points here; if you find one, just spend a few extra seconds applying pressure to it, but try not to increase the pressure itself, that may lead to increased tension in the muscles.
Finally, it's been postulated that the motion of yawning both increases oxygen to the brain and stretches the jaw muscles, which are under extreme pressure. If you feel the need to yawn at all while performing these movements, allow your body to stretch the muscles for you. Perform these movements on both side of the face, and remember to keep your pressure on the gentle side.
I'm happy to have helped a number of clients through TMJ disorders. These type of disorders along with neck and should tension can very effectively be addressed in just a 30 minute session, even during your lunch hour! Feel free to call me at my Westport office to schedule an appointment. See you soon!
An amazing exercise/stretch for the entire outer hip and upper leg
Ballet (and Barre) have become very popular forms of exercise recently, and rightly so. I've been using ballet as exercise for about 6 years, and I can say, categorically, there is no better method for opening your hips. After practicing ballet, I always feel stronger, more relaxed, and even a few inches taller! Perhaps what I love most about ballet is the combination of grace, power, and muscle release from stretching.
Below is illustrated one of my favorite ballet techniques, “Rond de Jambe” or “circling of the leg”. Half circles are created with the pointed toe, stretching and strengthening all the small musculature in the outer hip. This is a fantastic movement if you feel that you've been walking/running frequently and your gait may be off, or even if you slept on one hip strangely, making it feel tighter than the other. I've also found it beneficial for mothers who always hold children on one hip.
(These motions are “Rond de jambe à terre”; that is, a straightened leg with pointed toe remaining on the ground to sweep around.)
To begin, stand up straight in first position, heels together, toes open to a narrow “V”, with your head straight up and shoulders back. Hold your arms out to each side at shoulder level for balance.
Begin with the right foot, pointing straight out in front of you. Slowly stretch the right leg from front to back, drawing a big half circle with your toes, lightly grazing the floor. (This motion from front to back is “rond de jambe en dehors”.) Repeat 5 times.
Continuing with the right leg, point the toes to the back, then circle toward the front. (This motion from back to front is “rond de jambe en dedans.”) Repeat 5 times.
Take a moment here to notice if circling from front to back or from back to front was easier for you; this is an interesting note about your hips. If one feels more difficult than the other, that's the one you should spend more time and repetitions working out. Ideally, both motions would be equal on both legs; if not, repeat until they feel at least moderately similar.
Repeat both rond de jambe en dehors and rond de jambe en dedans on the left leg, 5 repetitions each.
Enjoy these stretches, letting yourself relax into the dance for a few moments in your day. With training, the hip musculature can go from chronically tense, to freely moving. And massage therapy sessions help too! The benefit of massage therapy combined with exercise is increased muscle training and circulation, which helps the body to function optimally. I'll see you in my Westport office!