Treating TMJ issues: a series of posts

I’ve been writing about TMJ pain and dysfunction on my Facebook business page and on my Austin, Texas, USA, private-practice website’s blog. Now I’m sharing an index of these posts here on my “big blog”.

If you have TMJ disorder and want to read any of those posts, here are the links.

I view TMJ issues as not just biomechanics, although it plays a role. This issue has social, emotional, historical, biological, cognitive, and spiritual aspects. I am very aware that some people, especially in the mainstream medical and dental fields, may believe it’s unnecessary or even laughable to provide information on so-called “woo-woo” or “fluffy” topics like essential oils, yoga, and the throat chakra for people who are suffering from jaw pain and dysfunction.

So let me share how I came to write this series of posts. Instead of just going to experts (and I have done that), I also asked women who suffer from this problem what helps, and they told me. And I believe them!

Since nine times more women than men experience severe, chronic TMJ issues, this is super valuable information to share.

I want the world to know that TMJ treatment is available beyond night guards, pain meds, and surgery, and there are so many options for self-care: massage, exercises, training yourself in new habits, reducing stress, improving posture, acupressure, nutrition, stretching, journaling, meditating, and more. I’m working on designing programs to evaluate and treat specific TMJ-related issues. More later!

If you bump into this limited and limiting attitude, please share this post, and please share in the comments your experiences and any other resources you have found helpful.

Post-concussion self-care

Update 9/10/18: Here’s a new resource with recommendations for concussion treatment: https://braininjuryguidelines.org/concussion/.

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I’m getting referrals for craniosacral therapy for people who have had concussions, and I want to help these folks heal. Not knowing what a doctor may have told them, and knowing how busy most doctors are, I’m providing information here that may help those with injured brains recover more quickly.

People who’ve had concussions may report these symptoms: pain, dizziness or vertigo, balance issues, gait disturbance, vision changes, sensitivity to light and sound, language problems, confusion, lack of focus, forgetfulness, nausea, sleepiness, and/or emotional problems.

To clarify the language, concussions may also be called mild TBIs (traumatic brain injuries). People can get concussions from an impact, from being shaken (like shaken baby syndrome), or from being near an explosion (IEDs in war zones make this a tragic problem for many veterans).

Continue reading

Breath of Fire relieved my hiatal hernia symptoms

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, just someone interested in self-care, anatomy, physiology, and wellness who is relating her personal experience working on her own issues. If you are in a similar situation, the techniques described below may or may not be helpful. Always pay attention to your body’s yes and no, and seek medical care when needed.

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A couple of years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with chest pain. I didn’t know what it was. I sat up, just feeling it, trying to figure out what was causing it and whether I needed to call an ambulance. That I was having a heart attack was my big fear. From the top of my solar plexus, the pain ran up through the middle of my chest underneath my sternum and up my throat. It was very unpleasant.

It went away, and I went back to sleep. I woke up feeling fine. Although scary, it didn’t seem to be any kind of an emergency. I put it out of my mind and went about my business.

Then it happened again a couple of times. This seemingly random chest pain sent me to the doctor, who through testing was able to rule out heart disease, possibly pancreatic cancer, and stomach ulcer. She wanted me to go to a gastroenterologist and do a barium swallow with x-rays.

I didn’t want to do that procedure, and by then, being the curious researcher that I am, I had figured out that it was very likely a hiatal hernia. See the images below.

So I began self-treating, starting with reading online. I learned:

  • hiatal hernias are more common in older people
  • obesity can be a factor
  • acid reflux can be a factor
  • overeating can make it worse
  • you can avoid symptoms by not eating 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • posture plays a role

Yes, even though I’m a yogi and usually have pretty decent posture, I was sitting on my sofa using my laptop all hunched over for a few hours several times a week. My fix for that was to sit cross-legged with my back straight, with my laptop on a thick pillow.

I am 64, and although not obese, I’ve put on a few pounds in the last few years. I’ve been guilty of eating late after a busy day and occasional overeating. I haven’t felt any symptoms of acid reflux, though, but learned you can have acid reflux without symptoms.

I learned more about the anatomy of a hiatal hernia. Simply put, the diaphragm separates your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity and moves when you breathe. The hiatus is an opening in your diaphragm where your esophagus passes through to your stomach.

When the hole is enlarged, a little bit of your stomach can protrude upward through the hole, crowding your chest cavity. Thus…lying down or bending over with a full stomach brings the pain on.

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 8.23.19 AM

Copyright 2004 MedicineNet Inc.

There is reportedly no cure, and in severe cases, drugs or surgery may be needed.

My favorite quick relief for hiatal hernia pain? Drink a glass of water, 8 to 12 ounces. Then stand on your tiptoes and quickly drop your heels, repeating this several times. The weight of the water in your stomach combined with the quick downward motion will jostle your stomach back down into its proper place beneath the diaphragm. Here’s a video showing the technique.

I also read about yoga poses to avoid: cobra, inversions like downward facing dog, and other poses I was doing every day. This was a drag. I wasn’t liking this at all.

I still had occasional esophageal spasms and finally did get the barium swallow. The diagnosis confirmed my intuition: I have a small “sliding hiatal hernia”.

Not long after, I was meditating, and I suddenly had an insight that a yogic breathing practice I’d learned decades ago called Breath of Fire (Sanskrit kapalabati or “skull shining breath”) might be helpful. I hadn’t practiced it in years. This technique pumps the diaphragm through rapid breathing, and since the diaphragm is a muscle, it can be strengthened through training.

Watch this video if Breath of Fire is new to you. Actual instruction starts at 2:50.

I started doing Breath of Fire for a minute a day. It was hard at first to breath rapidly in a steady rhythm, but it got easier. I worked up to 3, then 5, and then 10 minutes a day, building strength and stamina while maintaining a steady rhythm.

The diaphragm is a muscle that can be strengthened like any other muscle. At first, I felt some muscle soreness around the bottom of my rib cage, front, sides, and back, where the diaphragm attaches. After a few days, the soreness went away.

Not only does Breath of Fire strengthen your diaphragm, it also floods your body with oxygen, massages your organs, pumps your lymphatic system, and has other benefits. Since I started doing this three months ago, I’ve noticed a gradual increase in energy, mental clarity, positivity, and motivation. I feel more on top of things and happier.

I now do Breath of Fire for 3 minutes every morning for maintenance, and I haven’t had any hiatal hernia discomfort since I started. (I avoid eating near bedtime and lying down after eating.)

I do the yoga poses I want to do without any problems. I’ve long been a hatha yogini, but now I’m interested in learning more kundalini, where this practice originates, as far as I know.

It would take a truly open-minded, yoga-trained Western doctor to tell you to do this very simple technique, so I’m sharing. If you have a hiatal hernia and try these techniques, please share your experience in the comments.

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Addition, April 11, 2018. If you have a hiatal hernia, it’s important to know that you may have acid reflux, where you don’t produce enough stomach acid to break down the protein in food and to stimulate the production of digestive enzymes. You may burp, have gas, and/or feel bloated. You may also have acid reflux without any symptoms.

Low stomach acid signals the lower esophageal sphincter to stay open, making it more likely for a hiatal hernia to develop, and the stomach acid you do produce can splash up into the esophagus and possibly cause scarring and thickening. Not good.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 8.39.27 AMThe remedy for low stomach acid — which becomes more common with age — is to take a supplement containing Betaine HCl and pepsin. It helps you digest protein and absorb amino acids from food. Protein is in all animal-derived food sources — meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy — and legumes, including soy, tofu, and tempeh, and other foods. Protein helps your body build and repair tissues, especially important in building muscle, bone, blood, cartilage and skin. You definitely want to assimilate the protein you eat.

HCl also helps kill off pathogens in food.

There are some cautions about taking this. I found this article very helpful in explaining who should not take HCl and why.

It also explains how to find out how much you need to take, so as not to take too little to be effective or too much and experience discomfort. (If that happens, take 1/2 tsp of baking soda in water to neutralize the excess acid, and then cut back on the amount you’re taking.)

If you can’t take Betaine HCl before eating protein, drink a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice (shoot or dilute) to help acidify your stomach. These won’t help you break down the protein but may prevent acid reflux.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 9.10.39 AMYou can also take digestive bitters. Bitter tastes stimulate digestion. Our ancestors knew this and ate bitter foods every day — such as citrus, greens, cruciferous veggies, artichokes, ginger and other herbs, pepper, chocolate, and red wine.

Herbalists have been making bitter elixirs since at least the Middle Ages. I like this brand and carry it in my purse for those times when I forget to refill my little pill container with Betaine HCl and digestive enzymes.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 9.45.17 AMYou may also want to take digestive enzymes to help your stomach break down substances in food into molecules that you can absorb. If you are eating a healthful diet, you want your body to actually absorb the nutrients in that healthy (and possibly expensive or laborious-to-grow) food. Enzymes help further break down protein and also fats and carbohydrates. Low stomach acid goes hand-in-hand with low digestive enzymes.

A note on the timing: my doctor, who is working with me on my digestive issues, recommends taking 3 digestive enzymes at the beginning of meals and 3 Betaine HCl capsules after. I aim at taking the latter about 20 minutes after I finish eating so the HCl won’t deactivate the digestive enzymes.

You can take a dropperful of bitters before, during, or after meals.

Let me know in the comments what your experience is with any of this, please.

 

Update on using the sacroiliac belt

It’s been a week since I started self-treatment for SI joint pain. I’ve made some changes after talking with my teacher that I want to share, in case you’re doing this at home. (If you’re just tuning in, you may want to read my first post on this topic.)

First, I am wearing the sacroiliac belt at night while I sleep.

Since we spend about one-third of our life sleeping, and we’re unconscious while we sleep, sleep posture is extremely important when working on alignment issues like an SI joint that has been out of alignment for years.

I decided to sleep with the sacroiliac belt on 24/7 to prevent the alignment occurring during the daytime hours from being undone while I sleep. Of course I take it off to shower and swim.  Continue reading

Two remedies for muscle pain that everyone should know about: arnica and epsom salt

A marathon took place this past Sunday in Austin, Texas, and I’ve seen a few runners who came in for massages. It surprises me that so many runners, triathletes, bicyclists, and people who work out are unaware of two over-the-counter remedies that are very effective at relieving muscle pain. Hence this blog post!

It’s not that I don’t want to see you on the massage table. I do. Massage has great benefits, including pain relief. But it’s like this: Very few people can afford to get massage every time they work their muscles hard enough that they feel pain afterwards. Wouldn’t that be nice, though?

In between massages, here’s how you can find relief from muscle pain. These are remedies professional athletes, dancers, and others who work their bodies hard use. I first learned about them 20 years ago while attending a dance workshop.

Arnica gel and tabletsarnicagel

Arnica montana is an herb that grows in Europe. The homeopathic pharmaceutical industry sells an arnica gel that you can apply to your skin to relieve pain. It’s clear, goes on cool, has no odor, and once it dries, you can’t tell it’s there.

You can also get arnica cream, which blends more easily with lotion or creamy sunscreen.

Arnica relieves muscles aches and stiffness, reduces swelling, and prevents bruising. It relieves osteoarthritis pain as well as ibuprofen, without any side effects. I always have it available when I’m doing massage, to apply to bruises and to extremely sore, stiff, or swollen muscles.

arnicapelletsIf you’re more adventurous, you can take arnica tablets. There’s a little trick to dispensing the tablets: twist the lid to loosen. Hold the container upside down and twist it, keeping the lid stable. Pellets will fall into the lid one at a time. When you’ve released 5 pellets, remove the lid from the container and empty the lid under your tongue. Let the pellets melt in your mouth.

If you know you will be doing something where you’ll be in pain afterwards, like lifting heavy boxes, gardening, getting Rolfed, hiking with a heavy pack, etc., take the tablets beforehand to prevent or lessen pain, or take it afterwards for whole-body relief.

Where to get arnica

Here’s the tricky part. People “in the know” like athletes and dancers use arnica, but the makers don’t advertise (as far as I know), so others tend to learn about arnica via word of mouth. To buy it, you need to go to a store that sells homeopathic medicines. Ordinary drug stores and groceries typically do not (although that may be changing), but compounding pharmacies and health food stores (including Whole Foods and Sprouts) do. If it’s not available where you live, you can buy it online.

Note: You may have heard people say homeopathy doesn’t work. If you’re skeptical, try this: The next time you feel muscle pain equally on both sides of your body, apply arnica to one side and do nothing to the other side. Wait a few hours or overnight and note the difference. Or you could apply it to half a bruise and see what happens.

Epsom salt baths

My second recommendation for muscle pain is taking epsom salt baths. Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) is a mineral made from sea water that looks like rock salt. It has several uses, including taking internally to relieve constipation (taking too much orally can cause diarrhea) and fertilizing plants.

Fortunately, the body absorbs magnesium really well through the skin, and there are no adverse side-effects.

epsomsaltThe best use for sore bodies is to add two cups of epsom salt to a warm or hot bath and soak in it for 12-20 minutes. Swish the water until the epsom salt dissolves. If I take an epsom salt bath in the evening, it calms me and I sleep like a baby.

Epsom salt eases muscle cramps, pain, and inflammation. It reduces insomnia and anxiety. It pulls toxins out of cells, softens skin, improves blood circulation and oxygen use, increases the effectiveness of insulin, aids in nutrient absorption, lowers blood pressure, and relieves migraines and cold/flu symptoms.

Most of us are deficient in magnesium. Stress (including muscle overuse) depletes magnesium, and depleted magnesium creates stress, so it’s easy to get stuck in magnesium depletion.

I believe magnesium is the new Vitamin D because most of us don’t know we’re deficient, and once the deficiency is remedied, well-being increases.

I’m not the only one that thinks so.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, American’s magnesium deficiency helps to account for high rates of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, arthritis and joint pain, digestive maladies, stress-related illnesses, chronic fatigue and a number of other ailments.

The other component of epsom salt, sulfate aids joint health, improves absorption of nutrients, strengthens the gut lining, forms healthy brain tissue, and plays an essential role in detoxing. It may ease or prevent the pain of migraines.

If you think you might be deficient, take 2-3 epsom salt baths a week for a month. Once the blood levels reach optimum level, you stop absorbing it, so it’s safe.

Where to buy epsom salt

You can buy plain epsom salt at mainstream grocery stores and pharmacies. I bought a 4 pound bag from the Texas grocery chain H-E-B for $2.86. Four pounds makes 8 cups, so using two cups per bath, a bag provides enough for four baths at $.71 per bath.

Think about it: For a little over $2 per week, you could sleep like a baby, ease sore muscles, detoxify your body, improve digestion, lower blood pressure, and increase your feeling of well-being!

Bonus: You can reuse the bath water as a plant fertilizer! Epsom salt is often used to fertilize tomato and pepper plants as well as rose bushes. My bathtub drains into a hose that I can move around outside so various plants get the benefit of this fertilizer.

Also, you may see epsom salt sold in smaller quantities that’s had fragrant essential oils added. It’s usually marked up quite a bit. If you’re frugally experimental like me, you’ll want to get the plain generic epsom salt and experiment with adding your own fragrance.

For relaxation, add lavender, chamomile, frankincense, sandalwood, patchouli, or florals like rose, jasmine, neroli, geranium. To stimulate your energy, add citrus scents, mint, ginger, cinnamon, or rosemary. Put the scented epsom salt into pretty jars, tie with ribbons, and give as gifts.

Self-care for massage therapists, part 2 (what works for me)

In part 1, I listed various self-care methods that massage therapists use for their own aches and pains from giving massage. In part 2, I want to share what I’ve tried (so far) that works.

First, I want to say that my strength and endurance have increased with practice. I used to be in pain after giving 3 hour-long massages in a row several days in a row. Now I can do 4 hours 5 days a week with just a few twinges and aches afterwards. For several weeks, though, I was hurting and feeling some despair about having upended my life to get trained and start working in this new profession and the possibility of not being physically able to do it.

Key learnings from a newbie:

  • I no longer attempt deep tissue work, sticking to Swedish and reflexology. My Swedish massages are good and getting better. I incorporate some of David Lauterstein’s deep massage strokes into every Swedish massage, and I use pressure points, stretching, techniques from sports massage, body mobilization techniques, and reflexology, depending on the client’s issues and the amount of time I have. I cannot deliver the pressure that some clients (well-informed or not about what “deep tissue” means) seem to want. If I work within my limitations, it’s win-win for everyone.
  • I trained in Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy so that I can deliver deeper pressure using my feet and body weight, controlled by holding onto overhead bars. It’s so much easier on my body and a lot of fun, too.
  • I rock with my feet and leverage my body weight strategically as I deliver Swedish massage so my arms and shoulders do less work.
  • Hydrotherapy totally rocks after a long shift. I fill my double kitchen sinks with hot water (my water heater is set to 130 degrees F. for sanitizing laundry) and cold water that I dump a quart or two of ice into. I immerse my aching forearms and hands in the water, alternating cold-hot-cold-hot-cold, for one minute each. I can barely stand it, and yet it makes a huge difference in just 5 minutes. Seems to flush toxins and swelling and pain right out.
  • I stretch my fingers and wrists, holding each stretch for 15 seconds. Good to do when driving, at red lights.
  • I press into the trigger points for the elbow and wrist (see part 1 for links).
  • I apply magnesium gel with seaweed extract topically. According to Wikipedia, symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps, weakness, and fatigue, and fifty-seven percent of the US population does not get enough magnesium from food.
  • I love epsom salts in a bath. (Guess what? They contain magnesium!) When I was feeling a lot of pain all over, I would dump a cup or two of epsom salts into a fairly hot bath and add a few drops of lavender oil, then soak for 15-20 minutes. I felt like a new woman when I came out! I learned this years ago from dancers.
  • I use Young Living’s OrthoEase oil on clients’ painful muscles, and I use it on mine as well. Contains wintergreen, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and more that are analgesic and anti-inflammatory.
  • I keep hydrated and have been avoiding nightshades lately. I’m already gluten-free and eat fairly healthily. I’m interested in following an anti-inflammatory diet but haven’t done the research yet.
  • I take at least a couple of days off per week, not always together, though. I’m still finding my ideal schedule.
  • I do 10-15 minutes of yoga every morning. Sun salutations stretch and strengthen my body. Plus, it’s a great check-in to do something that starts the same every day. I start slowly and really let my hamstrings lengthen in forward bend before I move on to the next pose. I add standing poses, balance poses, and pigeon as I feel the need and to keep it interesting.
  • I get at least a chair massage every week. I’m interested in setting up a weekly trade for a full-body massage with someone, too.
  • I use a foam roller on back when needed, and a tennis ball to my gluteus.
  • I have two tennis balls tied into a sock that I use when driving to massage my back. I’ve also learned to “pop” my own back while giving massage!

Here’s something that just doesn’t fit into any of the categories I’ve seen so far about self-care for MTs. It’s about how you use your attention. I’ve learned to keep some of my attention on my body most of the time.

When I focused exclusively on the client’s body, delivering what I thought they wanted, I hurt and fatigued myself. I listen more to my body now and check in verbally with the client if I am not noticing nonverbal feedback.

If I notice that I feel rigid anywhere in my body, I say to myself, “Soften,” and my body softens.

Sometimes I put my attention on the soles of my feet and their connection to the floor/earth (I massage with bare feet always for Ashiatsu and as much as possible for Swedish), making the movements of giving massage into a soft, fluid dance.

Sometimes I attend to my breath, letting it become easy and relaxing (and audible to the client, as a nonverbal suggestion that they relax too).

All of these techniques activate the inner body, subtle body, energy body, whatever you want to call it. It feels better to give massage with this “soft present alive expanded body” than not. There is definitely an aspect of being “in the flow” that seems somehow related to doing Reiki, but I don’t know how to put it into words (yet).

Another bonus: the sensations of pain and fatigue become distant as peace and love fill my awareness.

I don’t know if clients perceive the difference, but I don’t think it could hurt. I do it for me because I “in-joy” it!

It’s been four months since I got licensed and began working. I look forward to learning even more new things about self-care and sharing them here.

Renewing my sitting practice, massage self care, oil pulling, and a 21-day challenge: Byron Katie’s The Work

I got away from my meditation practice. For many months.

It always seemed like a good idea when I thought about it, and I still didn’t actually do it more than occasionally. Committing to 20-30 minutes of doing nothing — well, it seemed like I didn’t have time. I had other things to do.

This is after years of meditating and a full year of daily sitting.

Hmmm. The mind plays tricks, takes itself way too seriously, makes excuses, avoids.

I missed it, and when a friend told me she gets out of bed and sits first thing every day, it inspired me to start again.

I was also inspired by the film The Dhamma Brothers, about a program in an Alabama prison where inmates did vipassana meditation, 10 days of silent sitting. It was profound to see peace on the faces of men who had committed terrible crimes.

One inmate said:

I thought my biggest fear was growing old and dying in prison. In truth, my biggest fear was growing old and not knowing myself.

Meditation has always been about facing my self, from the day I started, so tentatively, having realized that nothing else I had tried was taking my suffering away, so I might at least fully face it.

It didn’t take it away, but I quickly understood that my experience was larger than my suffering.

Aren’t we all in prisons of some kind? Fears, mindless behaviors, disconnections, denial, insane beliefs…

I want to know myself. And that in itself is such a koan, I felt inspired to sit with it.

Getting on the computer first thing in the morning is my worst distraction. I seem to have developed an affinity for my laptop, for Facebook, email, checking my blog stats, reading what interests me. Time can get away from me. It’s like an addiction.

So I realized that I need to sit first thing. Actually, I do a couple of sun salutations first. Otherwise, more of my attention goes to my aches and pains when I sit.

Yoga frees my mind to pay more attention to noticing my thoughts and sensing the subtle energies.

Today I experienced this:

Indeed, the ineffability of the air seems akin to the ineffability of awareness itself, and we should not be surprised that many indigenous peoples construe awareness, or ‘mind,’ not as a power that resides inside their heads, but rather as a quality that they themselves are inside of, along with the other animals and the plants, the mountains and the clouds. ~ David Abram

Tom Best would love that quote. Living inside of awareness. Sweet. I miss him.

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I’ve been giving 15-20 massages a week, and my body is feeling it. I like the honesty of physical work, and I’m learning about remedies like rosemary oil for achy thumbs, trigger points on the forearm, wrist stretches.

Immersing myself in the cold waters of Barton Springs and snorkeling a lap is very, very good for aches and pains. I sleep well.

I’ve also changed up my mouth care routine. I’m brushing with turmeric (if you try it, be careful because it stains towels and possibly porcelain, but it whitens teeth and reduces inflammation in gum pockets), tongue scraping, flossing, oil pulling with organic coconut oil (sometimes adding a drop of peppermint or clove oil).

I do the oil pulling for 20 minutes most days.

So far, my teeth are whiter, my mouth feels cleaner, and my breath smells good throughout the day.

I’ve done this about a week now. I want to do it for a couple of months and see if it makes a big difference. Some folks claim that oil pulling has huge unexpected health benefits; some say that’s because it reduces inflammation in the mouth and body.

I’ll let you know.

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Finally, I am planning to start a new 21-day challenge on Sept. 1, ending on the fall equinox. I will be doing The Work of Byron Katie, starting with her Judge Your Neighbor worksheet.

I will do at least one worksheet online so people can see how The Work actually works.

I’m also re-reading her book, Loving What Is (which she autographed for me last time I saw her!), and will add insights from that and the workshops I’ve attended.

If you’d like to do it along with me, here’s a link to the worksheet online.