The strongest muscle in the body, based on its weight, is the masseter (jaw muscle). With all the muscles of the jaw working together, it can close the teeth with force as great as 55 pounds (25 kilograms) on the incisors or 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms) on the molars. Amazing! And no wonder a tight jaw can so painful when it is locked tight! The truth is that your tight jaw and hip flexors are related through Red Light Reflex.
Red Light Reflex
TMJ and jaw pain reflects a deeper reflex pattern called Red Light Reflex (startle reflex). This autonomic reflex is the deepest innate protection mechanism we have in our bodies. It automatically triggers a “freeze” response to ensure survival and protect our vital organs and life.
The red light reflex presents as a contraction of our flexor muscles, the chain of muscles that contract to bend forward. That is why your tight hip flexor and jaw are related.
The Red Light reflex is primitive, involuntary, and strong. It occurs in all mammals in response to an actual or perceived threat to survival and kicks in within milliseconds of a threatening or startling event happening around us.
Text Neck Syndrome
In today’s society, Red Light Reflex is commonly presenting as Text Neck Syndrome.
Research published by Kenneth Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, states: “Smartphone users spend an average of two to four hours per day hunched over, reading e-mails, sending texts or checking social media sites. According to the research, that’s 700 to 1,400 hours per year that people are putting stress on their spines. And high-schoolers might be the worst. They could conceivably spend an additional 5,000 hours in this position.”
Repetition leads to habituation within the nervous system. You reinforce these negative habits locking yourself into the Red Light Reflex. High levels of stress and load exacerbate your symptoms.
Other causes of Red Light Reflex presentation in the body are sitting at the computer with poor workstation ergonomics, rounding forward when driving, and even spending too much time in the saddle on a road bike.
Indicators of Red Light Reflex
Other indicators of Red Light Reflex causing a tight jaw and tight hip flexors are: the head sitting forward of the shoulder, rounded shoulders, restricted diaphragmatic breath, overly tight abdominal muscles and hip flexors, and a pelvis that is tilted back so that the tailbone is permanently tucked under? Can you notice any of these indicators in your body?
Check-in and see if you have one or more of these postural symptoms present.
With all this drawing forward and downward because your powerful front body muscles are staying contracted, you may experience the feeling that standing upright is difficult. And, when you try to stand upright within seconds, you fall back into your rounded shoulder posture.
Do you have the sense that you have to work hard to stand up straight? Unfortunately, no amount of stretching or backbends is going to remedy your Red Light posture.
The most powerful technique that you have at your disposal to address Red Light Reflex is pandiculation. Pandiculation releases the involuntary contraction of your front body muscles (flexors), regaining your brain’s control of the flexor muscles to return to their best resting length. The result is easeful posture, full diaphragmatic breathing, and a release of the relentless tension and deeper body holding pattern that just so happens to be showing up in your jaw and hip flexors.
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Start exploring Arch and Flatten, Arch and Curl, and Diagonal Arch and Curl. These powerful movement practices will retrain your brain so you can change your tension/pain and create permanent and lasting change to your posture.
About the Author: Carrie and Nicole are certified IAYT SomaYoga Therapists and Somatics Educators who have specialized in working with clients in pain for well over 10 years. Their mission is to teach you revolutionary techniques to tap into your body’s innate intelligence and its ability to heal.
You could also call them “pain geeks” because they are extremely passionate and inquisitive about all things related to what causes people pain. To understand the true mind-body connection and to reset the nervous system in powerful and simple ways.
They specialize in skillfully combining the tools of Somatics, SomaYoga, Anatomy, Functional Movement Training, Mind Study and Yogic Philosophy to bring about more joy and freedom in the lives of those they work with. They teach to professionals and individuals sharing their Method.