Tongue Tension and Headaches Revisited

Here’s a query I received from a reader.  I have included it with permission.

I have had tension headaches every night since 7th grade, not only pain and sometimes dizziness when it gets bad, but a real drawback in night-time productive work time. I've been analyzing the headache source this past week. When the tension headache is bad, I have found my tongue is touching the roof of my mouth in some way. When I intervene and let my tongue drop, it seems to relieve tension in my tongue and jaw. Weirdly, each time I do it, I feel a fluid release from above (nasal area). This result happens 100% of the time. In science studies this is called a "reproducible result." Anyway, today I Googled "tongue on roof of mouth + tension headache" and found your blog. I know everyone is different, and some may get relief doing what you describe. But for me it seems to be the opposite--my relief comes from relaxing my tongue to rest between my lower teeth. Just thought I would pass this on to you, because this seems to be an interest of yours. I'm not smart enough to dispute your observations; this is just an FYI for you to think about, in case you are interested. Thanks!

 Well, yes, I am interested. 

In the post referenced by this reader, I suggested this experiment:  widen the back edges of your tongue to spread sideways toward your upper back molars.  Then let your tongue tenderly carpet the roof of your mouth, spreading out to softly touch the inside edges of all the upper teeth.

Here’s the message I sent back to this reader.

Jaw tension and tongue tension both cause headaches.

Relaxing Your Tongue

Tension in the tongue is commonly associated with jaw tension, and both jaw and tongue tension can contribute to headaches. Relationships within the face itself and between the face, head and neck are complicated. Pressure on the roof of the mouth by the tongue is transferred upward through the maxillae and other facial bones to the cranial bones and membranes within the skull.  Tightness at the temporomandibular joint also relays tension into the skull. 

I’m glad to learn that you are able to relieve your headaches by relaxing your tongue. I think it likely that the pressure your tongue has been applying to the roof of your mouth was forceful  enough to disturb your cranial bones. For you and for many people, a first step to relaxing the tongue and jaw is to let your tongue rest in the floor of your mouth. Because the tongue is the beginning of the gut, it even possible that relaxing it may contribute to an easing of any digestive issues you might have had.

The roof of the mouth is the floor of the nose.

The roof of the mouth is the floor of the nose.

Relaxed Tongue Lift Aids Nasal Breathing

In my earlier posts, I may not have emphasized enough that the tongue needs to be soft and relaxed in its contact with the roof of the mouth, touching it so lightly that you barely sense it. The tip of the tongue, especially, should be soft. When that can happen, the tongue provides gentle support to the facial bones, rather than compressing them.  Soft tongue support facilitates nasal breathing, whereas tongue laxity makes it more difficult to draw air in through the nostrils. You can feel the difference: when your tongue is lax, it’s necessary to engage the nostrils to draw the air inside.  There’s a sniffing effect. But when the tongue is a soft carpet against the maxillae, the nostrils more easily widen and the air flows in without effort.

It's also important to know that tongue and jaw tension can be associated with trauma, such as whiplash.  For an osteopathic study of this go here.

For a more general article on how trauma is expressed through the jaw, go here.

© 2018 Mary Bond