We've all been there–someone says something that makes you upset, stressed or nervous and you instantly clench your jaw without even thinking about. It's such a common reaction to stressful emotions and situations. But how exactly does this work and why is it important to understand the connection between jaw tension and stress? First of all, jaw pain, tension, and TMJ can really impact your quality of life and day-to-day activities. In severe cases, TMJ can get so bad that is even difficult to eat or speak. These problems are commonplace and most likely will continue to happen at even higher rates due to the stressful nature of modern-day living.
How Jaw Tension + Stress Are Related
So what exactly is happening when we subconsciously tense or clench our jaws when we react to stress? Scientists have actually been making some interesting discoveries that may help explain this more. We are seeing new research that’s unveiling the truth of how our bodies initially react when we experience negative emotions and the studies reveal that people automatically or subconsciously tense the jaw muscles around the muscles around their eyes and mouth. Researchers explain that with repeated stressful reactions people tend to shorten their neck, shoulder and jaw muscles, which leads to tension, pain and headaches. Even more studies have shown that an increased mental workload results in increased muscle tension in the neck, jaw and shoulders especially for people using computers. This leads to neck pain; stiffness, headaches, knots and even wrinkles, because the tension decreases blood flow, which leads to lactic acid build up, decreased oxygen delivery, accumulation of toxic metabolites and a decrease in lymphatic flow which lowers the immunity.
The Pelvic Floor Connection
Like I write about in my newest book, The Power Source there is a distinct connection between the pelvic floor and stress. And the Pelvic Floor is even referred to as the Root Chakra in Eastern tradition. This chakra is tied to fear, especially around our families, well-being, money, and safety. So when you consider that we often hold tension in the jaw as a way to repress anger, frustration and fear–you can see how important this connection is. From a science perspective, many new studies support the physiological connection to the pelvic floor and the jaw. There is a thin sheath of connective tissue from the pelvis to the jaw that envelopes and holds our inner body together. A study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics from Hanover Medical School in Germany revealed that TMJ (aka temporomandibular joint dysfunction) plays an important role in hip mobility restriction experienced by patients with pain and this indicated a connectedness between these two intrinsic parts of the body.