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How Jaw Pain Can Relate to Poor Posture

It amazes me how often I treat people with postural imbalances that also have jaw pain.  They don’t often tell me they have jaw pain until I ask them if they have ever had pain around their jaw, ear, or teeth.  But the affirmation of this leads me to believe that most people don’t understand how their Temporomandibular Dysfunction (TMD) can be caused by poor spinal posture.


I think the general population can understand how poor posture can be the culprit of neck and back pain.  Many patients will complain of “tightness” in the area of their neck and shoulder blades.  I assure you that the majority of the time these muscles aren’t truly “tight.”  They are actually lengthened and in a dysfunctional position, and are constantly contracting eccentrically or isometrically.  I like to explain this by showing a patient that when they slouch forward, the muscles around the shoulder blades and up in to the neck region actually become lengthened (not shortened), but are contracting to “hold on for dear life.”  Therefore, without the contraction of these muscles, the slouched posture would further collapse forward.  When these muscles are constantly being used, chemical waste products may develop in the tissue and there may be a lack of blood flow and capillary exchange to the area.  This could create what people know as “trigger points” and the feeling of “tightness.”


Now, if you put your spine, shoulders, and head in a slouched position, take a natural bight with your jaw and feel where your teeth touch one another.  You’ll probaby feel a significant overbight.  Then sit up very tall with your chin tucked in toward your neck and take a natural bight once again.  You’ll now probably feel your front teeth touching, or even an underbight occurring.  This is an easy way to prove to someone how spinal posture can change the position and function of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).  If the TMJ continues to be in a poor position, then it’s biomechanics (the way the joint moves) will be altered and possibly begin degenerate over time.


I’ve treated many people with TMD and jaw pain.  A full assessment needs to take place to truly understand why the patient is getting pain, but I want people to understand that it is possible that their symptoms have slowly progressed due to their poor spinal posture (but obviously not always).  I’ll always remember this quote that a mentor once said to me:  “Posture dictates function, but function governs posture.”

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