A client and good friend who has been battling neck and shoulder problems since a car accident a few years ago recently got back in touch with me. After meeting with doctors, physios, chiros, and myself included, no one was able to determine what was going on with her neck that would cause so much problems. She had X-rays, MRIs and enough radiation to make her glow, all came back negative. She’d almost given up hope when she tried a chiropractor who specialized in TMJ issues, and he mentioned that her braces as a youth more than likely caused an imbalance in the muscles of her jaw and neck that would have predisposed her to issues in the long run. The car accident was just the tipping point.
This isn’t something new. After doing some research, I’ve found that in a lot of cases, removal of teeth for orthodontics creates a different type of strain on the jaw, which gets reflected into the upper cervical joints, which leads to compensation patterns and pre-disposes the area to dysfunction. In fact, a lot of craniosaccral bodyworkers feel this has a very direct correlation to neck injury and compensation, especially if it involves tooth extraction, jaw surgery or other invasive procedures.
I’ll be the first to admit, having braces sucked. I grew up with a pretty high pain tolerance (I have two older brothers, and believe it or not, I’m the small one!!!), but there were times for weeks on end after adjustments that I’d have to take Tylenol every few hours to keep it together. On top of that, I had all four wisdom teeth pulled, and had to have a surgery on my jaw that involved breaking it on both sides and sliding it forward to balance out an overbite. Truth be told, I was a pretty homely lookin dude before, but now, well, just look at the header on this page!!
This correlation between orthodontic work and TMJ/neck pain makes sense, but the connection is one not too many trainers or practitioners would make. I mean, we’re all taught from the neck down, not too many people spend time learning about the muscles and joints of the head if they’re not somehow supporting the biceps or making your squat better. I definitely didn’t connect the dots on this one either. But I mean, after thinking about it, look at how many companies like Under Armour are jumping on the bite guard bandwagon and making “Performance Enhancing Mouthwear.”
While I don’t think these are worth their $400-1000 price tag, and any benefits gained would be more placebo-based, the fact that people are thinking about TMJ and sport performance is interesting.
What we know about how the body works is that stress created in one joint will typically display stress in near or associated joints. Think of a dysfunctional hip joint increasing strain and stress on the lumbar spine and knee joints. The problem is the hip, but the end result is a sore knee, so we tend to focus on the knee instead of fixing the hip. This may be a situation where the neck is merely the symptom, and the jaw is the culprit causing the problems.
Does this mean we shouldn’t get orthodontic work done? Uh, HELLO??!?!!!
Very, VERY few people are born with a set of straight and sexy chompers, so in many cases orthodontics are a god-send. However, the results of these kinds of things can manifest down the line in some pretty weird ways, such as my client above. What we have to realize is we are the sum of stresses placed on our body. If a stressor is not successfully attenuated throughout the systems of soft and hard tissue, it has to go somewhere and winds up causing some form of strain or dysfunction within the body. Imagine having braces pulling on teeth (a forceful stressor on the body) which has no method of attenuation. It creates tension throughout the muscles and joints associated as they try to stabilize the newly damaged area, and makes these muscles and associated joints dysfunctional.
Apparently the Wu Tang clan had it right when they sang “Protect Ya Neck.” Unfortunately, they did it at the sacrifice of their teeth, opting to avoid getting any orthodontic work done.
Muscle Imbalances can happen in any body part. Sometimes they come from sources we wouldn’t think of, so always keep an open mind about what may be causing a problem.