Do you find yourself clenching your jaw when things get stressful, maybe even to the point where your dentist notices teeth grinding? Or perhaps you have this annoying jaw click when you chew your food. This jaw-clenching behavior is usually seen as a natural reaction to stress, but your jaw pain may be triggering other pain throughout your body.
The tension in your jaw is perhaps surprisingly connected to another part of your body—your pelvic floor. Let’s talk about this lesser-known link between issues with the jaw joint, called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), and problems with the pelvic floor.
The TMJ is the joint that connects the jaw to the skull. It acts as a sliding hinge that allows the jaw to open and close. When there is pain or discomfort with the muscles, tendons, or cartilage associated with this joint, you may find yourself with a TMJ disorder.
Disorders of TMJ may exhibit symptoms like:
- Jaw pain on one or both sides
- Difficulty chewing or pain when chewing
- Locking of the jaw, making opening and closing your mouth difficult
- Clicking or grinding of the jaw when chewing
While TMJ disorders may have something to do with long-term teeth grinding (bruxism), arthritis, or jaw injury, the cause is often unclear. Recent research has linked this jaw-clenching behavior to more than just TMJ disorders. While the TMJ and the pelvic floor may seem worlds apart, they share a common connection rooted in the intricate web of the body's neural and muscular systems.
The Connection: How Are TMJ and the Pelvic Floor Related?
The connection between TMJ and pelvic floor muscles starts taking shape early on—around day 15 of gestation. At this point, two depressions, from the same embryological tissue, form side by side. These depressions grow with the developing spine. One depression evolves into the mouth, while the other transforms into the openings of the urethra, anus, and reproductive organs (aka the pelvic floor).
Chronic stress and its physical impact
Chronic stress and tension affect both TMJ and the pelvic floor. One study found a direct link between TMJ dysfunction and restricted hip range of motion. When the body encounters stress, a chain reaction unfolds in your muscles. This results in increased jaw clenching and heightened muscle tension that “clenches” our pelvic floor.
The tension from stress doesn't remain confined to the facial region. The vagus nerve reaches from the face to the pelvic floor muscles. So when there is tension in your face, the nerve communicates tension to your breathing pattern and pelvic floor—and vice versa.
Practical Tips for Managing TMJ and Supporting Pelvic Floor Health
Taking a proactive step to ease TMJ-related issues and support pelvic floor health involves lifestyle modifications and targeted exercises.
Begin by incorporating stress management techniques into your daily routine. Consider mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga to promote relaxation and reduce overall stress levels. Ultrasound imaging has shown that humming in low tones relaxes the pelvic floor—try adding a hum to your exhales when practicing breath work.
For a more targeted approach, engaging in physical therapy exercises can be beneficial. Include specific jaw exercises to relieve tension and enhance mobility, alongside pelvic floor exercises designed to strengthen and balance these crucial muscles.
“Puffy cheeks” is an exercise that relaxes both your jaw and pelvic floor. Here’s how to do this simple exercise:
- Bring your lips together and puff up your cheeks.
- While keeping your gaze forward, gently turn your head to one side, then return to the center. Repeat this on the other side, maintaining a forward gaze. Inhale and exhale through your nose, keeping your cheeks inflated.
- Perform this sequence three to five times.
- After your final breath, release the tension in your cheeks.
- Maintain closed lips and position your tongue between your upper and lower teeth. Feel the elongation of your jaw as you take three to five more breaths.
- Repeat this entire routine three times a day or as necessary.
Find a specialist
If you have any concerns, check in with the experts. Regular visits with your dentist or a TMJ specialist can help address jaw-related concerns. Consulting with a pelvic floor physical therapist will give you a comprehensive approach to pelvic health. By combining these lifestyle adjustments, exercises, and guidance from professionals, you empower yourself to manage TMJ issues, pelvic floor dysfunction, and everything in between.