Listening to the Experts

I wrote a while ago about the pain I was dealing with brought on by TMD, and how I’d started to go see a physical therapist about it. Mind you, this is now months that I’ve been dealing with this, which I realize is a drop in the bucket compared to how long others have faced it, but I just mention to say that it’s been a perpetual problem for quite some time.

After that initial visit with my physical therapist (shout out to Justin at Allied Physical Therapy!), he gave me some exercises I was supposed to follow. I was expecting the to be around something to do with my jaw. I don’t know: maybe moving it side to side, or yawning a lot? The pain’s in the jaw, so that must be where I need to work on the muscles, right?

Except instead of that, he told me to stretch my neck twice a day from two different angles, paying attention to both sides of my neck. I agreed, because what else was I going to say? (I was tempted to remind him I came for pain in my jaw, not my neck, but I decided not to do that.) The whole point of me going to see a physical therapist was acknowledging that I didn’t know enough about this pain to beat it on my own, and an expert would.

So I started stretching my neck, morning and evening. Maybe after I did that for a while, I’d start to feel the stretch in my jaw somehow as well. Maybe they really were all connected. Except the longer I did it (and the more practiced at the stretch I became), the more I knew I wasn’t feeling a stretch in my jaw at all. Not even a little.

The day after my first visit, my jaw felt pretty good. A feeling that ended the next day, and made me wonder if it was just a fluke. I went back for my second visit, and Justin assured me that was a good sign. He seemed optimistic that this was all going to help. And then he proceeded to massage my neck to death. Yes, he massaged the jaw a little, but 80% of his attention seemed to be focused on the neck. The next day, the biggest difference was that now my neck hurt more than my jaw.

It would have been easy at that point to throw my hands in the air and decide I was done with PT. I had tried asking “the experts,” and “the experts” had done something completely nonsensical. They’d even made things worse! But Justin had also mentioned that it might feel sore for a few days . . .

So I kept stretching my neck.

And you know what? A week and a half later, I’m seeing a real difference. My jaw only hurts occasionally. My teeth feel better. And when the pain comes back at all? I stretch my neck, and it goes away. I’m not ready to declare “Mission Accomplished,” but I do know this whole neck stretching thing is really making a difference.

Which is just to say, if someone knows more than you about a topic, it makes a whole lot of sense (to me at least) to listen to them. Especially when listening to them can improve your life in a potentially significant way. Food for thought . . .

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