When 18 year old Ben (not his real name) came to his first session he was slumped, his voice sounded muted and his breathing was labored. I could put him off balance with an ounce of pressure from my pinky finger; and when I tested his ability to activate any of his intrinsic core muscles he couldn’t, UNLESS he was HOLDING HIS BREATH.
Facial Scars that affect breathing affect core stability
Three years ago Ben got into a series of accidents that left him with cuts across his face, a severely broken nose, and a cut that went almost all the way through his left hand. As he recovered he realized he couldn’t close his mouth properly. It was a struggle, an effort to keep it closed. The trauma was causing a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problem. I have talked before about how impactful scars on a person’s face can be on motor control. This is especially true when they impair the passage of air for breathing or the ability of the mouth to close. In particular scars that affect breathing affect the core muscles, which are all fundamentally breathing muscles first.
Breathing is prioritized
He said to me that “his body just didn’t feel right”. It was twisted and unstable, he had back pain and neck pain. He didn’t feel like his old energetic, vibrant self. After these accidents he quit playing sports, making music, and wasn’t able to go back to school. His life was on hold. But I wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t able to take on much — holding your breath all day just to move around means you don’t have much oxygen left to fuel a sense of focus, be creative, or to learn new skills. The struggle to breath is more important than all of that. Motor control is prioritized; and your cerebellum knows damn well that breathing is more important than pretty much anything else.
Empowering people in their own healing
Ben is seeing me regularly– I have assessed and adjusted the pressure the old injuries are putting on his face and released scar tissue. But more importantly I’ve shown him how to heal himself: to continue the release of this scar tissue on his own, to practice developmental exercises to decompress his spine in areas where it is compressed, to move his jaw and neck differently. My goal is to empower my clients in their own healing.
I have never had a client that works harder
When he’s working with me Ben vibrates with mental effort. He knows better than to let any other part of his body take over, and when I ask him to move just his jaw and his back wants to arch, he doesn’t let it. The work is slow and intense. It is all about inward focus and I have never had a client that works harder in session. His determination is inspiring. He knows that he is building himself up; and he’s making fast progress because of that determination.
Home Exercises are key to progress
The work we do in session is only a small part of this process. Rehab requires daily effort. I assign very specific exercises, usually just 1 or 2, and ask clients to do them a few times a day — but make it clear that the more times come back to those exercises a day the more progress they will make. My clients don’t have to wonder if their exercises will work because we have seen improvement during session and KNOW that they work. But continued progress is up to them. No one has said it better than Ben did last session: “No one can do this for me. It’s all on me.”
Two weeks after his first session Ben walks upright with a longer stride. When he sits he is not slumped automatically, but sits tall for at least a few minutes before his body grows tired. He has started to breathe more quietly though his nose and his face looks more relaxed. And most importantly, he is eager to get back to working out, playing basketball with his friends, looking for work, and to getting his life back. He has a sense of hope.
If you have facial scars contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for an Initial Assessment to see how it’s affecting your breathing, core stability and jaw movement (TMJ).