The Jaw and Pelvic Floor Connection
You have heard the saying, "the hip bone is connected to the..." Did you know that tension in your jaw can contribute to tension in you pelvic region and vice versa? Did you relate your headache or migraine to your pelvis? There are several mechanisms and physiological pathways that explains this:
Embryology - during utero, the tissue that forms the mouth on one end forms the urethra, anus and reproductive organs. As the spine develops and grows further apart, a connection remains between them.
Nervous system - the dural tube covers the brain and spinal cord, anchoring to the tailbone. In addition, the parasympathetic neurons that are responsible for rest and digest come out of the brainstem to supply the head and neck and area above the diaphragm while parasympathetic nerves also exit the base of the spine through the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sacral nerves known as the pudendal nerve.
Fascial planes - fascia is the connective tissue that covers your skin all the way down to your bones and is neurological tissue. There is a fascial line connecting the jaw to the pelvis. See Anatomy Trains by Tom Myers.
Sphincters - all the circular sphincters in your body are connected and communicate with each other. If your oral sphincter is closed, so will the rectal sphincter and pelvic floor muscles, making it harder to eliminate stool or accommodate a large object such as a baby's head.
Stress response - emotions like stress, anger and fear are held subconsciously in the jaw as well as the pelvic floor as a result of the cranial nerves, particulary Vagus (X) and Trigeminal (V).
Much of what is happening does not reach consciousness unless you are practicing mindfulness. If you become aware that you are clenching your jaw, you might notice that you are holding the diaphragm and pelvic floor tight. Once you understand this connection, you can practice mindfulness and well as Vagus nerve strengthening exercises to improve the tension in your jaw, which in turn helps to relax the pelvic floor muscles. Early in my career, I noticed many individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headaches and fibromyalgia coming in for pelvic pain. At the time, science did not have a clear answer for why these syndromes occur together. I believe the common denominator is the inflammatory Standard American Diet (SAD) that affects all systems in the body, especially the digestive and neurological systems. The Vagus nerve is 80% sensory, meaning if your gut gets inflamed, neurons from the enteric nervous system known as the "gut brain" travel to the central nervous system and the brain responds by protecting and clenching muscles.
Here are some examples:
During every day life, be mindful of the position of your tongue, the strongest muscle in the body. The resting position of the tongue should be on the soft palate (roof of the mouth) towards the middle or back and not against the teeth. Whenever you feel tension or stress, take note of where your tongue is. By moving your tongue away from the teeth and placing it on the roof of your mouth towards the back, you will feel more relaxed and might notice it promotes a deep, relaxing diaphragm breath or what is called a physiological sigh.
During stool elimination, open your mouth to relax the oral sphincter. This in turn helps to relax and open the rectal sphincter known as the pelvic floor. We recommend saying "oo oo ah ah" out loud. Give it a try and notice the ease of passing stool. This works great for constipated children, too, and empowers them in healthier bowel habits to avoid straining.
During digestion, the central nervous receives sensory information from the Vagus nerve (cranial nerve X) through the enteric nervous system or "gut brain". The Vagus nerve is comprised of 80% sensory neurons, meaning more messages going TO the brain than from the brain. If you have a meal or eat something that inflames your gut, the messages through the Vagus nerve can trigger jaw clenching through the Trigeminal nerve (cranial nerve V) that is both sensory to the face and motor to the muscles of chewing or mastication, causing jaw clenching. The Vagus and Trigeminal nerves share a nucleus in the brainstem before exiting the skull. A healthy gut is essential for healthy muscle tone throughout your entire body.
During labor and delivery, open your mouth and relax your jaw similar to having a bowel movement. In addition, there are optimal positions for birthing to improve pelvic floor relaxation.
When you come to Healthy Core for pelvic floor dysfunction, you will also be evaluated for jaw tightness, especially if you have a history of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, grinding your teeth or headaches or migraines. We will incorporate techniques to help with tight muscles in the neck and jaw that might include cupping, fascial work, taping or Integrative Dry Needling. We will teach you how to reduce clenching in your jaw through strengthening the Vagus nerve. Read more here. We believe everything is connected and by addressing tension on both the top and the bottom, we can achieve greater outcomes to keep muscles healthy in the long-term. To schedule a FREE 15-minute consultation, contact us at (330)528-0034. You deserve to be empowered in your body and not have to live with pelvic floor or TMJ dysfunction.
by Janine Laughlin, PT edited February 2023