Importance of TMJ and CranioSacral

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TMJ dysfunction is probably one of the most unrecognized issues that many horses suffer from today. TMJ pain, which mostly involves soft tissue and ligament strain, can lead to posture imbalances affecting other joint in the body. Imbalance and pain in this joint can turn into TMJ dysfunction (TMD), which is remodeling of the joint and distortion of the other bones in the cranium. This is a serious concern affecting our horses today. TMJ issues can result in ulcers, ,colic, lameness, and performance issues just to name a few.

The temporomandibular joint is where the mandible meets the temporal bone, and might be the most critical and most complicated joint in a horse. This joint is the fastest changing joint, and the closest joint to the brain. The TMJ is highly innervated and is surrounded by structures that dictate the horses balance and sensory perceptions. The quality of feedback in the nervous system is affected by the health of this joint. There is an intricate web of information weaving throughout the TMJ, throat latch, poll, that directly affects the mechanics and neurology of the horse’s body.

The TMJ has two primary functions, mastication (mandible) and balance (temporal bone). Any change it bite, or movement of the jaw will cause change in the joint. The muscles and ligaments associated with mastication, also attach to tore important bones in the cranium. So when a horse is not chewing correctly, or has his jaw restricted with tight nose bands, this will cause tightness or weakness that will pull on the bones in the cranium- most importantly the sphenoid bone which is the bone that the brain (and pituitary gland) rests in. Therefore TMJ dysfunction can affect the central and autonomic nervous system causing a slew of issues that might seem unrelated.

There is also a spiritual and emotional aspect of the TMJ. The jaw is the most emotionally invested bone. Emotions are reflected and carried in the jaw…. Stress, anger, pain, love, peace, calmness. So when the jaw is restricted, it also will have an emotional effect as well as a physical effect.

The TMJ is also part of the stomatognathic system that works in harmony to perform different functional tasks. These structures are located from the neck up but also include the diaphragm. There are also acupuncture meridians that flow around the TMJ that go down the entire body to the pelvis.

I have recently attended (via on-line) a couple of dissections (horses) with a group in Holland. They did a demonstration on where they had one person place her hands on the horse's back, and one person move the hind leg front to back, and put a lever bit in the horse's mouth, then a snaffle, then a straight flexible nylon type bit, then just a plain cavesson. This was on the euthanized horse that was laying on the table for dissection. You could visibly see the restriction in the hind leg movement with each bit, the curb being the most restrictive, snaffle second, Flexi nylon 3rd, and cavesson the least restrictive. The two women had their eyes closed so they couldn't see when she was putting pressure on the tongue with the bit, the one with her hands on the back could feel the back stiffen, and the one moving the hind leg back and forth could also feel the restriction in the leg. Me, viewing it on the computer could see it as well. It was fascinating to see this on a horse that had no life. But the fascia connection was still there. I have also been called out for emergency saddle fittings when come to find out they just changed the bit yet they thought something happened and the saddle needed refitting.

Craniosacral can help relieve pain and tightness in the TMJ region as this specifically addresses soft tissues and bone, creating space so the body can begin it’s healing process. A good craniosacral practitioner can help you asses the TMJ health of your horse.