So you realized that you or a family member have a tongue and possibly a lip tie. Maybe a lactation consultant or tongue tie release provider recommended bodywork before and/or after release. You wondered, “Why are they asking for this? Is this necessary? Won’t I be just fine without it?” Bodywork is an important, but poorly understood part of the process to ensure the best outcome.
Swallowing As A Whole Body Process
Take a moment and gently place a flat hand over your throat. With it there, feel what happens when you swallow. You will feel the structures in the front of the throat lift up and then back down to their resting posture during a swallow. The movement felt in the throat continues into the chest. Tensions in the chest can make it more challenging for the structures to lift.
Try the following exercise: Sit or stand up straight. With your mouth closed, now tilt your head back imagining bringing the floor of your mouth upwards as far as you can. Now, take as deep of an inhalation breath as you can and hold it at the end of your inhalation. Once you’re there, try to swallow.
Was it difficult to swallow? A small amount of you will have no trouble swallowing with this exercise, many will find it difficult, while others will find it impossible to do.
Now I want you to try the exercise again the same way, but with one modification. Rather than taking an inhalation breath, blow out all of your air as much as possible and hold it. Then try to swallow.
Was it easier, harder, or no difference in trying to swallow? Anatomically, most of you should have had a more challenging time swallowing with the second variation, especially if you are tongue tied.
So what’s the point? The point is that chest mechanics can affect one’s ability to swallow. This is just one example demonstrating how problems elsewhere in the body can affect swallowing.
If you understand that, you can understand that swallowing is more of a whole-body process than just in the mouth. Even if you don’t understand the mechanics of the above exercise. In another article, Dr. Daniel Lopez has shown how tongue posture itself affects body posture.
Other Factors Affecting Swallowing
With newborn babies, there can be other factors besides tongue ties that affect tongue function. One common problem can be cranial nerve dysfunctions. A newborn baby’s head is in many different parts as the developing bones are forming. The occipital bone starts as four separate parts that fuse to become one bone. Those parts can have cranial nerves coursing between them.
If any parts become compressed into each other, they can entrap a nerve on one side possibly causing one nerve to be dysfunctional. Compressing a nerve can affect the signals it sends or receives and can create a “fight or flight” situation. This process can affect and contribute to tongue motor dysfunction, torticollis, airway and craniofacial development, posture, and other problems.
Osteopathic physicians are trained to treat many of these problems. Not specific to tongue ties, a study has shown that osteopathic treatment can be helpful with breastfeeding. A 2017 study with 97 subjects aimed at determining the efficacy of osteopathic treatment coupled with lactation consultations on the infants’ ability to latch concluded: “that a single osteopathic treatment coupled with lactation consultation is effective to reduce biomechanical sucking difficulties in infants younger than 6 weeks.”
Fascia and Tongue Tie Releases
When a muscle contracts, it bunches up the fascia attached to it. Also when a muscle relaxes, the fascia is no longer bunched up. So what would happen when a muscle becomes chronically contracted? That means it’s constantly contracting when it should be relaxed. Because fascia is continuous throughout the body, chronically contracted muscles can tighten fascia throughout the body.
It may not be a big deal when one muscle does this, but when there are many contracted muscles (which is usually the case), it can significantly increase tension throughout the body. In our practice, we have observed that the muscles of the tongue and floor of the mouth are commonly chronically contracted and hypersensitive. If you take a finger and massage under the tongue on the floor of your mouth or column of your tongue, you’ll be surprised at how tender the area is.
Nearly every patient I have ever seen has been surprised at how sore that area is. They have also felt how much better they feel when we release those areas.
We have observed that tongue ties strongly bind up the fascia that continues into the neck, chest, and elsewhere. Therefore it is important to identify and release problem areas elsewhere in the body that could be affecting tongue function and swallowing. Tongue ties are also a cause of chronic muscle contraction in the tongue and floor of the mouth (and elsewhere). These bunch up the fascia even further than the tongue tie alone.
Tongue tie releases don’t automatically result in relaxation of the chronically contracted tongue muscles. It can be helpful to release these as much as possible before a tongue tie release, but also afterward to help decrease fascial tension as much as possible to enhance swallowing.
We have observed in our practice that chronically contracted tongue and floor of the mouth muscles may be a reason for difficulty swallowing after a tongue tie release and can activate the “fight or flight” part of the nervous system. Furthermore, muscle and fascial tension in specific areas of the neck and chest can make it more difficult for the tongue to come up during swallowing. Much like you may have observed in the exercise above.
Conclusion About Bodywork and Tongue Tie Releases
A tongue tie and lip tie release is not a “silver bullet.” In some cases, it can be successful by itself, but generally these problems require a team approach. The lactation consultants, myofunctional therapists, tongue tie release providers, and those on your team want to get the best outcome for you or your child and have experience in determining if bodywork may be indicated pre and post tongue tie release.
Not all bodyworkers and bodywork are equal when it comes to dealing with tongue ties. What you want to do is go to the specialists who understand and can treat the fascia, muscles, joints, bones, cranial nerves, tongue function, and anatomy of not just the tongue, but the whole body.
Osteopathic physicians, or D.O.s, are fully licensed physicians that do cranial osteopathy are trained to diagnose and treat dysfunctions within the developing bones (or developed cranial bones in adults) within the skull, palate, mandible, as well as treat all the structures throughout the body.
They have the highest level of knowledge and training compared to other bodyworkers such as craniosacral therapists or chiropractors. Everyone works within their scope and can be helpful, but one should not assume that these treatments are interchangeable. For example, going to a chiropractor is not the same as going to a craniosacral therapist or an osteopathic physician.
Our team of doctors at Osteopathic Integrative Medicine is paving the way to truly understand all this in a way that has not been done before. Our team is the most qualified to help provide the best outcome for our patients. When it comes to your or your child, you want to start with the best. Make your appointment now and don’t delay.
- Tongue ties affect craniofacial development, posture, and more (it’s not just about breastfeeding)
- How easy or difficult swallowing is can be affected by tension in other parts of the body via fascial tension in conjunction with a tongue tie
- Tongue ties cause the surrounding muscles to become chronically contracted and sensitize the “fight or flight” portion of the nervous system
- Cranial nerve compressions in newborns and babies can cause motor dysfunction of the tongue, neck, and elsewhere
- Qualified bodyworkers can help address the fascia, tongue tension, cranial and body tension, nervous system dysregulation, and more that can be affecting swallowing
- Finding a bodyworker who is knowledgeable, skilled, and qualified to address these tensions is not common, even when many claim to