Why is jaw pain so tricky to resolve? The answer is actually quite simple; TMJ dysfunction is tenacious because the jaw is the part of the body where stubbornness and resistance manifests. I know, that’s just what you wanted to hear…but it’s true. Whenever you’ve been stubbornly holding onto outdated opinions, and refusing to make necessary changes in your life for too long, your jaw is going to let you know. So, a crucial part of addressing the problem is taking an honest look at your emotional life, and identifying what’s working, and what isn’t. Start by doing the following journaling activity. To get the most out of the exercise, avoid writing about physical symptoms, and focus on your personal or work life instead. Respond to the questions as quickly as you can, without thinking about it too much!
- Complete the following sentence, and add a few sentences to elaborate on the situation. “I feel frustrated that…”
- Now, write down your beliefs about this situation. “I believe that…”
Interestingly, there is a reciprocal relationship between the hips and the jaws. If one is out of position, there’s an extremely good chance the other is too. So, at times, jaw pain is actually a symptom of misalignment in the hips and/or pelvis, and correcting the misalignment in your hips will naturally ease jaw pain. Looking at the emotional significance of the hips can shed even more light on the emotional cause of your jaw pain. Hips are associated with assertiveness. You might be habitually asserting yourself too forcefully or in unhealthy ways because you believe it’s the only way to get what you want. On the other end of the spectrum, you may frequently neglect to assert yourself, because you believe doing so is the only way to keep the peace. Both scenarios will cause your hips to shift out of balance, and affect your jaw. With this in mind, look back at your responses to the questions posed in the introduction, and then contemplate the following questions:
- What connections can you make between the concept of assertiveness, and the things that you feel frustrated about, and your beliefs about those frustrations?
- What are the specific ways that are you pushing too hard in your life, or not pushing hard enough?
I also highly recommend doing daily stretches that help to open and relax the hips whenever someone is dealing with jaw pain. Some favorite yoga poses for this are: happy baby, pigeon, reclined bound angle, frog, and low lunge. Seeking the help of a chiropractor or an osteopath to work on hip and pelvic alignment is often very beneficial as well.
Biting off More Than You Can Chew
It’s also helpful to consider the jaw from another metaphorical perspective. The jaw and teeth are designed to help us chew. From a Somato-emotional view, that means that your jaw is connected to your ability to break down what you’ve been given, or what you’ve chosen to take on, into more manageable pieces. So take the time to ask yourself:
- Is there an area of my life where I have bitten off more than I can chew?
- What can I do to make those large pieces smaller or more manageable?
It can be tempting to resist this idea, since the jaw is all about stubbornly held ideas and beliefs, and instead hold onto the belief that whatever you’re struggling with is insurmountable. However, if you can resist the urge to resist, you’ll open yourself up to new possibilities, and discover your metaphorical knife and fork much more quickly!
Energy, Meridians, and the Jaw
In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory (TCM), the meridians (energy pathways) of most of the digestive organs traverse the jaw, throat, and neck. If there is an imbalance in one of the organs, it often reveals itself along its meridian. The imbalance can show up as tension, pain, muscle spasms, burning sensations, and even rashes. Sometimes more than one pattern of disharmony is occurring at the same time, but let’s look at the main organs and meridians involved in jaw pain individually.
The stomach is considered a reservoir for rotting and ripening in TCM theory. In other words, it’s where the food is broken down so vital nutrients can be absorbed by other organs and distributed throughout the body for use. A number of things can interfere with this process, including: eating too much food in one sitting, drinking water close to the time of eating or while eating (which is problematic because it dilutes the stomach acids that break down your food), eating too much cold, raw food, and engaging in stressful activities while eating, rather than sitting down and enjoying your meal. All of these habits slow down digestion and create stasis in the stomach. The result of this stagnation is that the stomach energy, which naturally moves downward so it can send waste to the intestines, cannot properly descend. However, energy must move, so when the stomach energy is blocked from descending, it will ascend along its meridian and manifest with any or all of the following symptoms: jaw tension or pain, headache, especially in the forehead region, nausea, belching, acid regurgitation, bad breath, and heartburn. Emotionally, problems with the stomach energy indicate that you are ignoring your “gut instinct”. Listen to your gut instinct, and follow through on what you know you need to do.
The small intestine meridian runs along the arm, to the shoulder blade, up the side of the neck to the corner of the jaw, then moves towards the cheekbone, and ends right in front of the ear. Stagnation in this meridian causes shoulder and neck tension, as well as jaw and facial pain. From a TCM perspective, the small intestine is primarily in charge of separating the “clean” and the “unclean” from the food that’s ingested. By extension, on an emotional level, the small intestine deals with your ability to extract value from your experiences, lovingly use those insights to enrich your life, and then move on. If you notice pain or tension along your small intestine meridian, it’s helpful to look at the ways you’re caring for yourself emotionally. In trying to get your emotional needs met, are you choosing approaches that are genuinely healthy and nurturing, or are you “comforting” yourself with things that are actually harmful? Are you being kind to yourself?
Liver and Gallbladder
In TCM, the liver and gallbladder also play an important role in jaw pain, as well as in the digestive process. The liver is in charge of moving energy smoothly throughout the body, so when your liver energy becomes stagnated, a number of imbalances can occur. Jaw pain and headaches can result because the liver energy is unable to move in its natural direction; instead of spreading evenly, it rises along the meridian of its paired organ, the gallbladder, which runs along the jaw near the ear, and over the scalp, causing pain and tension. Typical things that stagnate the liver and gallbladder are overindulgence in greasy, fatty foods, lack of cardiovascular exercise, blood deficiency, and excessive exposure to cold.
Emotionally, the liver is connected to anger and/or depression, and to feeling stressed. The gallbladder is associated with decision-making. As a pair, they relate to the concept of desire. When you resist what life is presenting to you, you’ll either actively push it away, or passively turn away from it. Pushing it away creates heat, and manifests as anger, jaw pain, and pounding headaches. Resisting what’s showing up in your life by trying to avoid it creates stagnation, and manifests as depression, tightness in the jaws, and tension headaches. The connection to desire and decision-making is worth further discussion here. Like energy, which always needs to move, your psyche is constantly moving in relation to your desires. We naturally gravitate towards things we desire, and pull away from things we dislike. But what happens when you don’t seem to be able to get closer to the thing you desire? Frustration. Depression. What about when the thing you wish to avoid simply does not go away? Once again, depression and frustration often arise. The common denominator here is stubbornness and resistance. However, there is a way of thinking that would allow you to move through the emotional discomfort and get to the other side of it, rather than trying to push it away, or hide from it, by tapping into the decision-making energy of the gallbladder. You can make a conscious decision to surrender your judgment of the situation. You can decide to look for the wisdom that your body is communicating to you about the beliefs you’re holding onto that need to be released, and in doing so, discover sweet relief.
Try These 3 Treatments to Get Relief:
Keeping an open mind is the most valuable thing you can do as you address your jaw pain. Conventional treatments like painkillers or mouth guards can definitely help – but if that isn’t working for you, it’s probably time to “look outside the box”.
I’m excited to introduce a new treatment modality I’m offering for TMJ sufferers like you. Facial Cupping is a soothing, all natural technique that provides incredible relief from TMJ disorder, and its associated headaches and neck pain. Facial Cupping gently releases the tension and stuck fascia that are causing you pain, relaxes your muscles, and promotes proper blood circulation and lymphatic flow in your face and neck. So if you’re looking for pain and stress relief, as well as some deep relaxation, book yourself in for a Facial Cupping and Craniosacral combination treatment. Want to take it to the next level? Get even more relief from your suffering by adding acupuncture to the treatment as well.
Ready to start feeling like yourself again? Click here to find out about pricing and book your first treatment. You’ll be so glad you did.