How Your Mid Back Influences Your Jaw
Sounds strange right? You’ve probably heard “it’s all connected” when it comes to your body, but how does the health and mobility of your spine influence what’s happening at your jaw? Read more to find out!
And even more, learn about preventative measures to reduce the chances thoracic stiffness contributes to TMD and headaches.
What is my mid back?
Your “mid back” is the middle section of your spine called the thoracic spine. There are 12 vertebrae in the thoracic spine named T1-T12. This area of the spine is shaped in a convexity termed a kyphotic curve that notoriously tends to become exaggerated and stiff.
This happens somewhat naturally as we age. But is also exacerbated by frequently sitting in a hunched over position doing activities such as: working on the computer, looking at your phone, or just even sitting slumped without realizing it! Awareness of this tendency and using tools to prevent its development can significantly improve your posture. And it can reduce neck/jaw pain and headaches.
Generally, most of us could use more mobility in our thoracic spine. We could also use more strength in the muscles that span this region. Because of the tendency to sit slumped, or in a more flexed position, the muscles that span your mid back become lengthened and weakened over time. This is the beginning of the chain of events that also influences head/neck/jaw position known as upper-crossed syndrome.
How does my mid back affect my jaw?
Upper-crossed syndrome (UCS) is a term used to describe what happens to muscles of the mid back and neck over time as changes in the spine occur. This is namely an exaggerated convexity in the mid back. It then leads to a forward head position. Some of the muscles that surround the mid back and neck can become long and weak. While others can become short and tight, based on their relation to the changes in the spine.
In this commonly found faulty posture, the head is often jutting forward and tilted back. This shortens the muscles on the back side of the skull leading to headaches. The changes in this head position combined with the force of gravity ends up putting excessive load on your TMJs.
This forward head position also ends up putting protrusion stress on the mandible. This pushes your lower jaw forward.
This added stress to the lower jaw makes you more susceptible to a TMJ disc dysfunction or it can lead to clicking/popping in the joint.
Not to mention, the muscular adaptations associated with all these changes can lead to the development of myofascial trigger points, only adding to that pain developing in your neck/jaw. This includes headaches!
What can I do to improve my mid back to prevent TMD?
The first step to any change is awareness! It is time to start paying attention to your daily positions. This is especially important while working at the computer or while in driving positions for longer periods of time. I recommend trying to get up and move around from a sustained sitting position at least every 30-60 minutes to improve mobility and prevent excessive stiffness.
It may be obvious that one of the best ways to prevent this is to start strengthening the muscles around the mid back. And that is correct! However, a caveat to that notion is that the passive tension from the opposing short/tight muscles as well as the stiffness in the spine may prevent successful strength training in this area until those other impairments are addressed. That’s why in physical therapy treatment for the jaw, manual techniques for the thoracic and cervical spine (neck) are often utilized to improve mobility here. This will ultimately help relieve the jaw.
Exercises are implemented and progressed based on your body’s ability to appropriately execute the neuro re-ed/strengthening exercises of this region as mobility improves.
Visiting a skilled physical therapist to thoroughly evaluate your posture and how these changes may be influencing your TMD is key!
Education will be provided with suggestions on how to start making changes at home. For now, maybe take a picture of yourself at your workstation and see how your body is looking! And set a timer to get up throughout the day and move your body!
About the author:
Dr. Samantha Dove is originally from San Antonio, Texas and has recently moved to Cincinnati from Atlanta, GA with her husband Sam and their dog Koda.
She was a springboard and platform diver for the University of Texas at Austin and has been a Doctor of Physical Therapy for over 5 years. Dr. Dove treats all orthopedic conditions with special interest in the spine, chronic pain, vestibular, and TMJ/TMD populations. She has her Manual Therapy Certification through the University of St. Augustine (USA) and has extensive dry needling training with KinetaCore.
Dr. Dove highly values continuing education in a variety of physical therapy topics but has taken special interest in the CranioFacial courses through USA to advance her TMD treatment skills. Health and wellness are a natural interest of hers in her personal life including participating in activities such as yoga, running, gardening, reading, cooking, family walks at Eden Park and all things self care! She is very excited to explore Cincinnati and to be joining the team at Anchor Wellness Center!