Three fingers and counting

You wouldn’t think it possible to doze off with a man’s hand in your mouth, would you? And yet, during my most recent craniosacral session, I’m pretty sure I snored while my therapist’s gloved fingers were massaging my temporomandibular joint from the inside.

In 2011, when I tried to treat my TMJ with acupuncture for the third time, my acupuncturist asked me how many fingers I could put in mouth. I could barely get my teeth around two. Go ahead, stick your fingers between your upper and lower teeth to see just how limiting that is. I had trouble biting into a sandwich.

When I participated in a TMJ followup study in June, I needed to hold my mouth open during a portion of the MRI, but the little spacer device wouldn’t fit between my teeth, so they had to make a special one by rubberbanding a stack of tongue depressors together.

So it is with great pride I tell you that after nine craniosacral treatments, I can now fit THREE fingers in my mouth, with a little room to spare.

My craniosacral guy said not many people can fit four fingers, so to let him know if I get there.

I might be up for the challenge. To give some perspective, this photo was taken when I was around 21. That’s got to be at least four, if not five or six fingers wide.

Please keep your inappropriate comments to yourself. This is for science.

I’d heard of craniosacral therapy for a number of years, as I investigated every single other thing I could think of to alleviate the pain in my jaw. I would have tried it sooner if anyone had said to me, “Of all things, this will make a difference. I promise.” No one told me that, and quite frankly, it seemed a little woo-woo. (Fluctuations in cerebrospinal fluid?) Also, I’ve had a few massage therapists tell me they “know a little craniosacral,” then hold my head very still for a few minutes. Didn’t seem like much.

Several months ago, a massage therapist referred me to a real craniosacral therapist. She told me he was licensed to stick his hand in my mouth and to make sure to tell him I wanted him to, because he doesn’t necessarily bust out that trick on the first appointment. Not everyone is into that.

Unlike other forms of massage, craniosacral is performed fully clothed. During my first session, he had me lie on the table and he touched my head and my shoulders, very gently. Too gently. Like he wasn’t really doing anything. Maybe he was analyzing my cranial rhythm? Taking my cerebrospinal pulse? I couldn’t tell if he was performing an initial exam or whether the treatment had started.

After a bit, he slapped on a latex glove and stuck his fingers in my mouth. (My chiropractor did this once, but for a much shorter period of time. He showed me how to press on my jaw from inside my mouth, which hurt the way a massage does when it’s too intense for comfort. When the finger was removed, I felt a release in my jaw, but only momentarily.) The craniosacral mouthwork was very thorough. He even replaced the glove a number of times. Too much saliva, I guess.

During my first couple of appointments, I didn’t feel as much discomfort as I did when the chiropractor put his finger in my mouth, although he did ask me several times if I was okay and to let him know if anything hurt.

I couldn’t tell a difference after the first few sessions, but my therapist said he was able to get deeper in there as we progressed, and the treatment became more intense. I liked that, because I felt like something was happening, and I never felt pain afterward as a result. Of course, my jaw still “hurt,” but it always hurt. I couldn’t tell you if it hurt more or less, or even if it bothered me every day. Maybe I should have kept a jaw pain journal.

It’s funny when you become so used to pain that you almost aren’t able to tell if it’s there. Does my jaw hurt right now? I don’t know. Let’s see. (Opens mouth, moves lower jaw.) No, I guess it does not.

I haven’t been pain-free because a few things have happened since I started the craniosacral. I had some dental work that involved holding my mouth open for a long period of time. (The dentist said, “Open…. Open wider,” and I felt stupid because that was as far as I could open.) I had a crazy migraine. Followed by a crazy stiff neck.

But after my last appointment, I noticed that I could fit three fingers in my mouth. Call craniosacral therapy what you want, but that’s measurable progress, people. That’s freaking science.

Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

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