Neck Pain, Shoulder Pain, TMJ, Migraines: Is Your Tongue the Culprit?

Last weekend, my sister and I had a conversation about tongue ties. Ever heard of them?

Find a mirror. Lift up the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Is there a prominent, stretchy, pinkish-white thing connecting the underside of your tongue to the “floor” of your mouth? Then you might have a tongue tie.

Red panda lying on a log with its tongue sticking out.

OK, not a human tongue tie example, but I’ll use any excuse to use a cute red panda photo.

Both of my nieces had tongue ties at birth, which my sister discovered once she began trying to nurse, and both babies had difficulty latching properly.

My sister is fascinated by all things health and wellbeing, and she’s an amazing researcher. Not only did she figure out that tongue (and lip!) ties were a problem for her daughters, but she also investigated the ramifications of tongue ties in adults.

The effects of tongue ties in adults are pretty damning. Because the tongue is a muscle, connected to other muscles in your neck and down into your shoulders*, adults with untreated tongue ties often experience a host of symptoms, including but not limited to:

-Chronic neck and shoulder pain
-Migraines
-TMJ
-Sleep apnea
-Snoring
-Teeth misalignment (even after braces)
-Teeth grinding
-Diminished jawline
-Forward head
-Asymmetrical features (ex. one eye larger than the other)
-Even fatigue and anxiety, due to airways being slightly blocked. A tongue-tied person’s tongue likely rests on the floor of their mouth, instead of the roof, so the tongue can block airways, especially at night when that person is lying down and relaxed.

*Of course, those shoulder muscles are connected to your mid-back muscles, which are connected to your low-back muscles, which are connected to your pelvic muscles, which are connected to your glute/hamstring muscles, which are…you get the idea. You can’t mess with just one muscle in one area of your body and it NOT affect other areas.

We did a quick, unofficial check to see if I had a tongue tie. Without either of us being trained doctors, I can’t confirm that I do, but…if we were betting ladies, we’d feel pretty confident in our gamble.

“But how does this tie into body alignment? Why are you discussing this on Young, Wild and Pain-Free?”

My scoliosis recovery seems to have plateaued lately. I’m in no pain or discomfort, so that’s wonderful, and the low-back curve actually looks pretty great, last I checked on it. Still curvy, but even the chiropractor commented that my lumbar vertebrae had good spacing between them.

However, it’s the upper back curve that’s being stubborn. I can affect small changes to it that might last a few days, but there seems to be little I can do to bring lasting changes. My head still comes forward and my right shoulder still rotates forward of my body.

Coincidentally, for the last several months, I’ve been struggling with breathing at night, increased snoring, a crooked smile, lower teeth shifting (I wore braces for three years in high school), teeth grinding, and my chronic fatigue and low-grade anxiety — which I’ve always had — have been wearing me down.

Could it be that my tongue is messing with the alignment of my body and giving me all these symptoms?

Remember:

“Bones move where muscles tell them to.”

– Pete Egoscue

If I have a muscle in one area of my body that’s “misaligned,” (in this case, my tongue potentially being bound up in my mouth when it shouldn’t be) that muscle will pull/push on other muscles, which will pull/push on my bones, which will affect my overall alignment.

In this case, conceivably yes: My tongue might be the cause of at least some of my upper body misalignment issues, which makes it an appropriate topic for this blog.

Next Thursday, I have an initial consultation via Skype with Sandra Coulson and Associates, a myofunctional therapy clinic in Colorado. They’ve been in practice for 45 years, and addressing tongue tie issues is a large part of their practice. They’ll confirm whether I need treatment for a tongue tie. I’ll write a follow-up post for that appointment, so stay tuned.

Even if I don’t have a tongue tie, this is still an important issue that more adults need to be aware of, especially if they’ve been battling any of the symptoms listed above

It’s hypothesized that we’re less aware of tongue ties because of bottle feeding. In the past, when midwives delivered babies, they would immediately check the newborn’s mouth for tongue ties and lip ties, which can impede the newborn’s ability to nurse. If they found any, the midwife would use a sharp fingernail (ew) to snip the ties, right there.

However, it’s thought that as we shifted more toward bottle feeding, the necessity of searching for lip and tongue ties diminished, because bottle feeding is much easier for the baby than nursing, so the practice of snipping lip and tongue ties became less common. But with the resurgence of breastfeeding, more parents have once again become aware of the negative effects of lip and tongue ties.

That means, though, that there are likely many adults walking around with more lip and tongue ties than their grandparents or great-grandparents, or even more current generations.

How many of us are struggling with symptoms we’ve never been able to find a cure for, when it could be something as simple as treating an old lip or tongue tie?

I wanted to write this post to hopefully raise more awareness of this issue and the alignment problems it can cause, especially as it relates to adults. Stay tuned for the update about my appointment, because even if I don’t have a tongue tie, I’m sure I’ll learn more information that will be helpful to other adults who are also interested in this topic!

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