There are a few important things to remember while doing your myofunctional therapy exercises. Read on to learn how to make the time you put into your exercises worth every second!
If you're reading this post, it's likely that you already know that simple myofunctional exercises can accomplish great things. So I'll cut to the chase. These exercises are much more effective when done properly. I want to share some tips so that you don't make things harder than they ought to be. In a perfect world, everybody would have a twice daily 1-on-1 visit with a perfectly matched myofunctional therapist to walk them through each set of exercises. But let's be real. Nobody has time for that! Here are a few basic tips to help you make sure that the time you spend on your exercises gives you the most bang for your buck. Because let's face it, even 5 minutes 2x/day can feel like a lot sometimes!
Myo exercises are most effective when these 4 important tips are remembered. I always recommend that clients of all ages review these tips daily before sitting down to begin their exercises.
So without further ado, The Tips!
Must #1: Establish Good Posture and Breathing
It's best to find a comfortable place where you can routinely do your exercises. The 90-90-90 rule is the first thing to consider when establishing your go-to location. This is just an easy way of saying your chair is at the perfect height in which 90 degree angles are seen at your ankles, knees, and hips. If you spend time at a desk during the day whether at work or in school, it's also good to remember 90 degrees for your elbows. Occasionally, accomplishing this 90-90-90 rule can prove to be a challenge! But it's worth the extra effort to find any household items available to prop the feet or seat (I've seen some families get downright creative with this) and find that natural skeletal support that we were built for. Depending on your height, you may require a stool or a stack of books (which I find easier to fine-tune) under your feet while sitting an adult sized chair. OK, now remember to keep your shoulders back without straining! (I know, this is easier said than done. And any potential tethered oral tissues aka TOTs may contribute to this challenge. But it's all good, because we are working on that, right?)
Once you feel confident you've established this posture, ask a friend or family member to take a peek and give you their best critique! Sometimes, our proprioception is a little "off" and our bodies can tell us that we are sitting up straight when reality shows us otherwise. A quick photo can be worth a million words. Ok, posture is now established. So now it's time for some deep, slow breaths to relax the body and brain, and hone in your focus to the MYOFUNCTIONAL AWESOMENESS that's about to ensue.
I recommend some diaphragmatic breaths, allowing a little more time for your exhale than your inhale. Try to draw the air into your abdomen in all directions. I used to think "belly breathing" just meant to raise the belly with your inhale. This is incorrect! It's best to expand your lower ribs and belly in all 3-dimentions, as if it were a balloon. Your shoulders and neck should remain still and not feel tense when you take these breaths.
Must #2: If It Hurts, STOP
Nothing about orofacial myofunctional exercises should hurt you. If you find your jaw getting achey, or that facial pain or headaches are intensifying, discontinue whichever exercises are aggravating your symptoms and reach out to your myofunctional therapist ASAP to discuss options for modifications. Depending on the circumstances, he or she may be able to guide you through some self massage techniques or active movements to help relieve your symptoms. Fatigue is totally normal and expected, but pain is not. I repeat, PAIN IS NOT NORMAL. There is a likely a very good chance that you need to re-train your muscles to disengage from one another. This is often the first big hurdle with myo! Which leads us to the next Myo Must...
Must #3: Use a Mirror
Your orofacial muscles have been creating patterns since before you were even born (thats right, swallowing of amniotic fluid can begin as early as 10 weeks in utero, and thumbsucking can begin as early as 12 weeks!) So myofunctional therapy works to re-write those brain to muscle synapses through repetition. To check if you need help disengaging extraneous muscles, watch yourself closely in a mirror. When the tongue is extended out of the mouth and drawn side to side, do you see any side-to-side movement of the jaw along with your tongue? Do you notice any neck muscles tensing up? Do you feel tension elsewhere in your face? Extraneous muscle use is almost always seen during the first few sessions. A mirror is hands-down the most important prop for myofunctional therapy! If you've ever experimented both with a mirror and without, then you know what I'm talking about. I ask every patient I see in the hygiene chair to stick out the tongue and bring it side-to-side during an oral cancer screen. Patients are often shocked at how hard this can be! The mirror offers visual feedback to the brain so that it can make more sense of how the tongue moves with any given "instructions". An LCD screen on a cell phone or iPad in selfie-mode can do the trick if you're in a pinch, but I much prefer a free-standing mirror as it allows for more balanced posture as noted in Must #1!
Must #4: Find Your Motivation
What you put in to your myo is 100% what you will get out of it. Avoiding burnout is a HUGE priority to address before embarking on your myo journey. Even the most well-intentioned client who has researched myofunctional therapy for years and paid in full for a package plan can easily slip into the not-doing-the-homework-routine. Let's face it. Life gets busy. I encourage all my clients to find 2 separate times of the day when they can disengage from their busy lives and truly focus on their exercises. Active exercises require your full attention while watching yourself in the mirror (until you have it perfected!). I know work and children and roommates and chores are all very good excuses to why the exercises slip through the cracks. But I challenge anybody reading this post to pause right now, and think about when you could set aside 5 minutes of personal time in your day. Ok, now 5 more minutes in the same day. It get's tricky, doesn't it!? If you slip one day and miss your exercises, try to make up for it the next day by adding in an extra few sets! In general, it seems to work best for most patients right after brushing your teeth while looking in the mirror. Some prefer doing them at their work desk watching themselves in the selfie camera mode. Find what works for you and commit. If you find yourself unable to keep up with your exercises, seek new opportunities throughout the day. Maybe mid-morning and mid-afternoon work better for you than after mealtimes or brushing your teeth. Just be true with yourself and your myofunctional therapist - there is no sense in progressing to the next phase of therapy if you haven't completed your homework. Telling my patients they need to "re-do" the previous session's exercises is not more fun for them than it is for me! Push your next appointment back until you can complete what's necessary, but keep in mind, the more often you do that, the more likely you are to burnout. That being said, some exercises may be more challenging than others depending on the individual. Sometimes exercises will be given for several sessions in a row until you have mastered them, and that's A-okay.
Now that you have my 4 Myo Musts, take them and ruuuuuuuun and feel confident knowing that you are working as efficiently as possible to accomplish your personal myofunctional therapy goals.