If you've ever experienced TMJ, tongue tie, or headaches coming from your face and neck tension, you know what I'm talking about. The best graphic I ever saw of it showed the tension lines going over the jaw and coming out of the eyeballs like lightning. That was perfect to me.
First things first: I'm not going to fix your tongue tie, TMJ, face pain, or headaches during this here little podcast episode! I want you to get your expectations set early. This is a complex issue, with skeletal, muscular, nerve, and habit components. Plus, I understand that watching demonstrations of things that can help is often more helpful than just listening to me describe them, so I encourage you to go check out the additional resources I'm going to share with you.
What I am going to do is talk to you about some of the factors that contribute to exacerbating your discomfort, that you probably have some control over. I'm also going to talk about some stretches and moves, that might help you be less uncomfortable when you have an episode.
If you're wanting more specific moves, then I want you to take a look at my Face Tension and Pain mini course at my website, paulasherbals.com. I also have some ribcage and back stretches in my free Resources hub on my website as well.
First, let's get aware of the things we do that are causing muscle tension in your face and neck in the first place. There's familiar things, like gritting your teeth. There's also less familiar ones. A big thing I experience, and that others have been surprised to realize they experience too, is working my whole jaw, or sometimes just my tongue, when I'm doing some kind of manual task. This is usually when I'm cooking or washing dishes- during these repetitive tasks like stirring and chopping, I find myself mimicking the motion with my face! I don't know definitively why this happens, but I have a theory.
Personally, I have tongue tie, which means that my tongue doesn't move very much because of how it's attached behind my bottom teeth. So my face and neck muscles have to do almost all of my talking- which is no small task, since I talk for a living
And also, as a pilates instructor, I have frequently found myself cuing clients to relax their shoulders during a completely unrelated stretch, like a quadriceps stretch. The line I use is, "Your shoulders don't stretch your quads, no matter how hard they try!"
I think that's what's going on here. My face and neck muscles are accustomed to overuse, so when my arms are working they try to as well. It's really hard to stop this- it takes constantly becoming aware of it, stopping it, and repeating that indefinitely. Eventually you start anticipating it and trying to not let it happen in the first place- this is how you know you're making progress! But catching yourself straining face and neck muscles when they're not needed is certainly an important step to lessening the strain on those muscles in the first place.
Another contributor to your pain is Tech Neck, I'm guessing- this is the situation when we spend too much time in a forward head thrust looking at screens, usually, but also driving, reading, and such.
A forward posture like this means that everything behind your face- the back of your neck, the base of your skull, the muscles on your skull, and the muscles down over the back of your shoulders- they all stiffen. They're trying to pull back and prevent a forward collapse of your heavy head, while your head is dragging them forward. And they end up stiff and frozen, and also overstretched so you can't even strengthen them like this. You can't build strength into an overshortened or an overstretched muscle.
It means that everything in front stiffens as well, in an attempt to prop up your head. The muscles at the front and side of your neck, into your jaw and your collarbone, and into your face, start trying to brace you up.
We need to get your ears back over top of your shoulders, where your head is balanced between the front and the back of your neck, and nothing is working in a way that it's not supposed to be. The passive way to do this is to lay flat on the floor on your back. You can put something under your knees, or even rest your lower legs up on a chair or the couch, but the point is to let your neck relax in line with your shoulders.
When you're really tight like this, laying on your back is going to have your head tipped up. This is because that forward position forces your neck to bend up, to lift your chin so you can still see. Pay attention to where your gaze is when you're lying down- it should be going straight up; if you had a Nerf dart suction-cupped on your forehead it would point straight up, not diagonally back, in an ideal world. Let your neck relax so that your forehead tips more straight up, instead of backwards. Your ribs are probably arched up towards the ceiling too, so relaxing them down and relieving the excess curve in your upper back is necessary as well.
Now, I do have a mini course available specifically about Tech Neck, if this is a big problem for you. That is available on my website, PaulasHerbals.com, under Work With Me. This mini course has more active stretches that you can do to actively draw your ears back over your shoulders. This lying back and letting your neck stretch is a passive stretch that works. If you need more active things, check out my mini courses on my website.
The Eyes Have It
Here's one tiny move that has been amazingly helpful to me. We know that staring at computer screens all day isn't good for us. And you also may know that the act of looking at a distant object or vista or just anything further away requires your eye muscles to relax- which is the opposite of the computer strain.
So, try this. Give yourself a few neck stretches- a few slow, deliberate Yes's and No's, a few side to side tilts, a few gentle full circles in both directions, paying attention to your range of movement.
Now, hold your hand out in front of you, with your index finger up like you're saying "Number 1!" Focus you eyes on your finger, and slowly and smoothly pull your arm in until your finger touches your nose or the center of your forehead, then reach it all the way back out. Keep your eyes focused on your finger, and feel your eye muscles shifting to stay on your finger.
After you've done this, repeat your neck stretches. You should feel more range of motion. There's some quirks of anatomy here that closely tie your eye muscles to the the base of your skull muscles, so moving and stretching and reliving tension in one of those sets of muscles relieves it in the other set at the same time. Wild, right?!
Next up, the herbs
This has been a little look into three physical things you can do to help your face and neck and jaw tension, whether you're suffering from TMJ, headaches, tongue tie, or anything else.
I always recommend doing these things BEFORE you're in pain, so you know what they feel like and then you'll also know if you're doing them right when you need them! So practice these things- they might help stave off a flare up of your pain, or help you relieve some discomfort if you're in the middle of one.
Next week, I'm going to talk to you about some herbal remedies that have also saved me a lot of grief from my tongue tie over the years. These are plants that can relieve tension, heal inflammation damage, and are particularly, specifically helpful with the kinds of pain and problems these face and neck muscles give us.
Listen to the episode here
Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a movement coach. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one on TV.
This is a public space, so my writing reflects my experiences and I try to stay general enough so it might relate to you. This does not constitute medical advice, and I encourage you to discuss concerns with your doctor. Remember, however, that the final say in your wellness decisions are always yours- you have the power to choose, you are the boss of you.
Any specifics or details you want to discuss with me can be done in a private consultation- check out my Work With Me links above.
And, some of my posts may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them I'll earn a few cents. Thank you for supporting my work.