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Free Your Face

This post is the first in a 12-part series that takes us through different body parts, introducing them from a health and wellbeing perspective and with lots of resources for anyone wishing to find out more.

I thought I’d start ‘from the top’… with the head and face itself. So much to cover this fascinating and still largely undiscussed part of our body, I have picked out a few bits to begin.

Are we All Really Built like Action Man?

First of all, a little easy, fun exercise. Feel the back of your head at the base of your skull – you should find as your fingers move downwards that they drop off onto an area of muscle and soft tissue just under a bony ridge.

Keeping your fingers there, and your head still, look to your far left and right with your eyes only. Do you feel the muscles under your fingers moving? At the back of your head?! This is just one example of how our amazing heads are finely tuned and constantly working in unexpected harmony to keep our eyes to the horizon, our head up and our nerves impingement-free. No wonder, with our eyes constantly scanning screens, that our poor necks get tired.

Gory though it might seem, despite our hugely varied facial features, we all look pretty much like this underneath our skin. And the wonderously infinite diversity of our expressions comes from the combination of movement in these muscles, from smiling, to surprise, to that face you make when you discover the tupperware has something growing in it. Our face houses the ‘windows to our soul’, protects our brain, and is our major means of communicating with each other, even more than how or what we say. Our facial expression is usually a result of our inner mood… but it can also be a way to change it… more on that later.

So why do we generally know so little about this part of our body? Even at Physio school it was covered in only a couple of lectures. Perhaps it’s a remnant of pre-Descartian days, where the mind and body were deemed separate, and the head was somehow seen as part of the brain. Perhaps it’s a sign of our current budget-strapped times, where a referral to the physio from our GP focuses on one body part alone, not the whole person. I am often asked whether neck and shoulder pain are related, which they are, of course: the head and neck play an essential part in our body posture, our vision and ultimately survival. Yes they are inextricably connected with the brain – and believe me, we wouldn’t want it any other way.

These hidden muscles of our faces are constantly at work, building up imbalances and postural patterns like muscles anywhere else. Muscular tension anywhere on your head can be responsible for headaches of epic proportions, contributing to migranes, and in the case of one of my patients, a wine intolerance! (Thankfully resolved by acupuncture in just two sessions – phew). Tension at the very top of the neck / base of the skull at the back often brings on headaches at the front of the head. Looking at the diagram below, you can see how tension in one muscle (the Occipital muscle) can cause strain in another (the Frontalis muscle), connected as they are via the beautifully named Galea Aponeurosis (though this actually translates, rather unpalatably, as ‘helmet tendon’).

Chew on This…

And they are also surprisingly strong – though it varies from individual to individual, the closing strength of a jaw is on average about 35 kilograms-force (340 Newtons)… which can go up to 60 kilograms-force (590 N) when the test subject is locally anaesthatised. Technically it is possible for us to break our own jaw with .the strength of our jaw muscles, but like everywhere else in our bodies, there are controlling factors such as opposing muscles and neural feedback, in this case pressure and pain sensors in our teeth, stopping us biting off more than we can chew.

The jaw itself can hold an incredible amount of tension in it, as we are constantly using it to speak, eat, and even hold our mouths closed throughout the day. So you can forgive yourself for a little overnight drooling – your jaw muscles deserve the rest too. The Tempero-Mandibular Joint (i.e. the jaw hinge, the TMJ) can develop pain, clicking, and long standing problems when these powerful muscles become dysfunctional or misaligned. Unusually, the TMJ has a gelatinous disc in it, similar to those between the vertebrae in your spine, except that this one moves forward as the jaw opens and retracts as it closes. As you probably see where I’m going, this too can dislocate under impact, wear and tear or sub-optimal chewing patterns, causing discomfort and sometimes excruciating pain. Braces for children aren’t just to look pretty, they can perform essential reforming of the jaw to prevent issues like this occurring in later life.

Why do men grown more handsome as they get older?

My slightly unscientific answer is that they stretch and tone their facial muscles more than women. During their daily shave, they have to contort and stretch their jaws, purse lips side to side, usually with an accompanying raising of the eyebrows and stretch of the nose. Ladies spend a lot of time trying to preserve perfection through immobilisation, but this could be doing us a disservice. Use it or lose it, just like any other muscle!

There are lots of blogs online purporting to ‘rejuvenate’ your face, lose 15 years, eliminate wrinkles. Wrinkles, sadly, will happen, but we can ensure the health of our face is looked after so those wrinkles lie gently over nourished tissues and strong muscles.

Rather than offering empty promises, I’ve selected the images below because they really do make you feel good. They are for opening up the face, stretching and easing them, stimulating circulation, and making you feel a bit silly in a fun way. Our expressions and body posture really do shape our moods, even holding a pencil between your teeth so this can have benefits for the rest of your day too! Though, yes, exercise and strength are important, from the faces I have massaged it seems that they get enough of that through all our conversations, eating, working and worrying. Best to stretch, it makes us all feel better. Simply take a few minutes, perhaps while you are brushing your teeth, to stretch your face and get it set for the day.

Need a Helping Hand?

Obviously, muscles get tired and knotty on your face too, and benefit from some hands-on treatment. I’ve recently launched a new type of massage at Arcadia – face massage. My first customers for this treatment have repeatedly said “I didn’t know how much tension I held in my face!” and felt hugely relaxed after the session. There are no fancy potions and definitely no ‘product’ sales pitch. If you’d like to feel totally relaxed and release tension you barely knew you had, simply book yourself a 1 hour session quoting ‘facial massage’ in the ‘details’ box, or go to the Services page for more information.