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Fascia: You’ve heard the word, but what is it?

What is Fascia?  

Fascia is a three-dimensional matrix (or webbing) which interpenetrates, supports and wraps all organs & tissues within the human body. This unique covering gives form and function to the bloodstream, musculoskeletal system, nervous system, organs, bone tissue and meningeal tissue.  

It’s a broad fabric-like connective tissue that makes up 16% of our body’s total weight and holds 25% of its water content. The unique properties and gel-base allow for pressure against the tissue to distribute over a large surface without compressive forces. This minimizes any potential damage to localized tissue.  

So what does all this mean? Fascia is the sea that our bones float in. It provides lubrication between the bones and muscles to move smoothly. In other words, it’s the glue that holds us together and gives shape to the body.  

The fascia system is a continuous network which unlike muscle, does not stop at the bone. Its fibers crisscross in multiple directions and anatomical planes. Muscular movement is facilitated by the fascia, which can also restrict activity.  

What to expect when receiving a fascia treatment?  

Fascia treatments to the head, neck and jaw are effective and generally less discomforting to the person receiving the release.  

Gentle pressure is applied to engage the tissue, but not to create a strong force. The idea is to allow the tissue to guide the way and enable a release of the fascia and the surrounding muscles. 

A constant pressure is applied in one area, such as the neck. My first 2 fingers of one hand are placed as an anchor just below the bone behind the ear and the same 2 fingers of the other hand applies the pressure to the tissue. I then wait for the slow release as the release moves my fingers further down the muscle being treated. This same technique can be done with the muscles located under the chin and those located below the base of your skull.  

When releasing the muscles located within the mouth, a light pressure is applied with one finger (gloved), and again we wait for the tissue to guide us further. 

This process can take up to 2 minutes before a change in the tissue occurs. You, the client, may experience a feeling of a pulse, heat, or a light burning sensation in the area as this change occurs.  

Most clients feel less tension, a decrease in pain, and more movement within the area after receiving fascia work. It is possible to experience some general soreness lasting a couple hours after treatment. Heat can be applied to the area worked on which can help improve further circulation. 

Benefits to a fascia treatment of the head, neck and jaw include; increased range of motion, longer-lasting results, decreased muscle soreness after treatment, increased circulation, and decreased pain. 

Melissa MacIntosh, RMT

Understanding the Connection of TMJ Symptoms Causing Unpleasant Ear Sensations

As a massage therapist and human anatomy enthusiast, I often think about two simple questions: “How?” and “why?”. Or, more specifically, “How are things connected and why is that connection related to something?”. The something in these scenarios is the unpleasant pains and sensations our bodies tend to experience.

A great example of one such sensation is ear stuffiness, tinnitus, and/or pain. Often the cause is not related to your ears at all, as the above list features common symptoms of TMJ dysfunction. In other words, that pain in your ear might actually be a pain in your Temporal Mandible Joint or TMJ as my fellow anatomy geeks call it. I wanted to explore this connection to explain the cause and treatment to my clients. The fact that I am not immune from ear fullness sensations also sparked my interest in the subject.

Anatomy

This interest led me down a rabbit hole of research, as it often does. Now that I have emerged on the other side of it, with new knowledge in hand, I am excited to share it with my readers in hopes of helping them understand their bodies more fully. Let us start with a bit of anatomy to lay the foundation. Many are aware the middle ear contains a tube; called the eustachian tube by its scientific name. This tube provides a connection from the ear to the nasopharynx. The nasopharynx is the upper throat & back of the nasal cavity, as you may or may not have guessed by the name.

The job of the eustachian tube is to control the air pressure within the ear by equalizing the pressure inside the ear with the pressure outside the body. The tube remains closed the majority of the time except during yawning, chewing or swallowing. During these short periods of activity, the tube is open and allows airflow to pass from the inner ear to the nasopharynx.  

If air can’t pass from the inner ear to the nasopharynx, it creates negative pressure within the ear which then causes ringing in the ears (tinnitus), ear fullness or stuffiness, along with vertigo.  

Connecting the Dots

While all this may be both painful and irritating, you may be wondering how it relates to TMJ pain & dysfunction. If you take a look at the diagram below, you see there is a thin piece of bone that divides the middle ear from the TMJ, called the temporal bone (highlighted in purple). 

When I look at the purple highlighted area, I know this is the exact location of our ears. The ears, as well as the TMJ, share the same nerve supply from the mandibular branch of the Trigeminal nerve. 

I should now add that this nerve can become trapped between 2 muscles of the jaw called the medial and lateral pterygoids. As a result, pain is referred along the side of the jaw. 

When I put the following factors together, this alone makes a strong case for why the ear is affected by a problem with the jaw.   

  • structural & anatomical locations 
  •  identical nerve supply  
  • teammates working together to balance the air pressure inside our ear to the nasal region. 

Muscular Involvement

Although the details we covered so far make a compelling argument, I also found myself looking at the muscles involved in the passage of the airflow discussed in the beginning. A duo pair of muscles called the Tensor Veli Palatine & Levator veli Palatine are at the top of the list for culprits of the problematic ear symptoms that occur with TMJD. 

Why, you may ask? These culprit muscles control the soft palate of the mouth, located on what many of us refer to as the “roof” of the mouth.  

The main purpose of the soft palate is to prevent the passage of food and beverages from entering the nasopharynx. This action occurs with the Levator Veli Palatine muscle. I have talked a lot about the eustachian tube, but what controls the opening of it? The Levator Veli’s counterpart, the Tensor Veli Palatine acts as the pulling force to open the tube.  

Conclusion

In a somewhat complicated nutshell, both the jaw and the ear share anatomical structures and functions. If the Tensor Veli muscle can’t act to close the eustachian tube located inside the ear, negative pressure gets stuck within the inner ear and causes an array of unpleasant symptoms. The next time you notice unpleasant ear sensations, ask yourself if you are actually experiencing issues with your jaw, and consider calling your friendly local Jaw Mechanic ™.

2019 in Review

As we grow closer to the end of another chapter, I’d like to sit and reflect on the year in a personal and professional way. As a goal-driven individual, I like to create certain expectations & challenges for the coming year.  

Going into 2019 I had the goal to make a point to step outside of my comfort zone. As much as that space is safe and comfortable, I have learned that it is quite difficult to grow as a person if we cling to this zone. Was it difficult, of course, it was! It’s literally like kicking yourself in the butt.   

I’m proud of the strides I have made in the last year. If it weren’t for my efforts to push myself, I wouldn’t have the returning clientele I currently have in the 2 clinics I practice at. I also wouldn’t have become a trained and certified TMJ specialist had I not given myself that push.  

In June of 2019, I took what was to me, a huge step for the development of my skills & practice. I traveled to Ontario to attend a 3-day intensive course to become the TMJ specialist that I am. This trip was also a huge jump from my comfort zone, here’s why;  

  • I was flying for the first time on my own  
  • Going to a place I hadn’t been before and finding my way around.  

The experience & knowledge I gained both on a professional & personal level from this trip was invaluable! I have a specialty that gives my practice direction and value. Personally, I proved to myself that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable in new situations, but it also builds new self-confidence.   

Also, back in June, I went to an evening networking event with a friend & they had opened the floor for anyone to step up to the mic and tell their story. I told my friend “I’ll do it if you do it!” I surprised myself as well as my friend by handing her my purse and just stepping out when the next opening came up! I stood in front of a room full of people with a mic in hand & told my RMT story. Had I given myself a moment to think on what I was about to do, I’m sure I would have hesitated. Now, I look forward to the next opportunity I get to talk about what I do & how I can help others.   

For the most part, I’m a one-woman show, my hustle is on 24/7. It is only myself who can truly steer the direction of my career. However, I haven’t reached where I am today by solely running it all myself. I have tremendous gratitude towards the valuable connections I call friends, who have contributed to the enhanced skills that go with my one-woman show. I wouldn’t be where I am without my dynamic duo the Geworsky’s. Brittney built my logo & has given me endless advice on social media marketing. Chris (Geworsky Imaging) did the work on the vision I had for my TMJ info video. My online presence would not be what it is without the help & advice of my good friend Roberta Hibbert. I still have lots to learn about running a website, but I can manage a fair bit now thanks to her help.  

 In 2020 I aim to continue to build my brand The Jaw Mechanic, improve my online presence/reach a larger audience and do more info sessions on the interesting services I offer.  

Keeping it to 3 goals removes the potential for overwhelming expectations to achieve it all. I also like to write them down in a safe place where I can look back to overtime. Writing goals down, I have found to be a powerful motivator, which allows more chances to succeed!  

A Bit About Me

I thought it was time I share my personal story for everyone to get to know me better. Prior to becoming a massage therapist, I worked in the health care field as a Continuing Care Assistant for about 7 years. I gained some valuable experience in various types of care facilities including hospitals, mental health, home care and seniors homes. I have always had a passion to help others and my love for fitness combined with that led me to pursue massage therapy.

I love a challenge and the tougher the better. This I have always been sure relates to the history of my battle and defeat of childhood cancer. The way I see it, I have conquered the near impossible and that which didn’t kill me only made me stronger. 

When I say I love a challenge, I live for it! I got into weightlifting in my early twenties, as an interest and to get into shape. This then leads me into my first (and only) bikini competition. My intention going into it was not to win or place, but simply for myself and to instill confidence in my body and acceptance of my scars. 

  I’ve continued to keep up with weightlifting and trained for powerlifting. Once I became what I considered an amateur powerlifter and had confidence in my lifts, I then trained and competed in my first meet about 2 years ago. Deadlifts were my best and heaviest of the 3 lifts. 1 week out from the competition I was pulling 200lbs. My goal for the meet was for my heaviest attempt, to pull 220lbs and I did just that! Though I weighed in at 124lbs, the bar went up like it was nothing. You don’t need to have big muscles to pull heavyweight, just strength. During my schooling to become a Registered Massage Therapist, I stepped back from powerlifting to focus on my studies.  

I began taking aerial silks classes at Studio In Essence. I trained in this up to the end of level 2. I had a strong interest in training in pole fitness, this was an interest I have had for a long time. I’d never considered the training before cause I honestly thought I would fall on my head or something, plus for a long time I’ve had a fear of heights. Aerial silks training gave me confidence in myself and my body to try poll fitness. I’ve been training in pole fitness since January of this year. Pole has allowed me to realize that the fear of heights is actually a fear of falling. I’m conquering this fear by learning to trust myself that I can do the crazy awesome tricks! For me, this is learning to trust myself with every new trick we learn. It takes practice, trust & to be confident in yourself that you have the strength, skill and mindset to nail it. You might ask, “Are you scared or nervous with what some tricks involve (ie, Hanging upside down)?” Of Course! Not only do I trust and have confidence that I can/will do it, but I also have amazing instructors that spot us when learning something new and aren’t quite ready to fly solo.

If you can dream it, you can achieve it!