Why Is The Tongue Important

Sep 19, 2022

For this blog, I wanted to talk about the importance of the tongue. Recently, I posted something on our Just Breathe site and asked, “Where do you typically place your tongue?” Is it shoved forward on the front of your teeth, or is it up on the roof of your mouth and back? And people were pretty interested in what does that have to do with anything and what is it connected to.


Where Our Tongue Goes, Our Body Tends To Follow

I made a video on this a while ago on YouTube, because it helps with head placement. Weirdly, where our tongue goes, our body tends to follow. And so, with the tongue pressed against your teeth, that is going to make us have that forward head carriage.

So, if you're doing your rehab exercises and we're queuing you to have your chin back or retracted and your tongue is pushing forward, it's going to be a little more difficult. So if you try right now and you're sitting there, press your tongue against your teeth and feel where your head naturally wants to go, where does it want to drift? And then, take the tongue and bring it up to the roof of the mouth and back. So the whole thing is connected and feel how that draws your head back. So that is a really interesting connection as to your body going where we probably don't think much about our tongue.


How The Orofacial Opening Is Connected To The Pelvic Floor

I actually just took a course on the tongue with Dr. Perry Nickelston, the Stop Chasing Pain, and he had a ton of great stuff on there. I took it with the intention that I would use it with patients for all sorts of musculoskeletal things. But I wanted to also tie it into my pelvic floor work because as I talked about in a previous podcast, the orofacial opening and the pelvic floor are connected. They're connected via fascial patterns, and fascial trains, and they're also connected via an embryological connection.

So when we're developing as an embryo, about day 15, we have two little depressions in the embryo, one for your mouth, the jaw opening, and then one for your pelvic floor area. As you develop and as you grow those two areas separate, because your spine is growing in between, but they're still connected.

Another way we can see that connection is if you're having trouble engaging your pelvic floor or relaxing your pelvic floor, I'll sometimes have people suck on their thumb and then blow on their thumb. When you suck on your thumb, your pelvic floor will engage, and slightly lift. And when you blow on your thumb, you'll feel it drop.

Not everyone retains that reflex, but a lot of people do, so you can try that blow on the thumb, feel it drop, suck on the thumb, feel it lift. That’s not just for women because men and women develop exactly the same way embryologically and there is a connection for both.

So that's why when you're nursing a baby, they're not going to go to the bathroom while they're nursing because they're sucking and their sucking reflex prevents that because it's engaging the pelvic floor.

With the fascial connection, from one place to the other, we've got the tongue fascially connected to the sternocleidomastoid, a very long word of a muscle, but basically, it goes from your sternum, clavicle, you're collarbone, to the mastoid, way up at the top behind the ear and jaw. So when you turn your head and lift it, you're going to see that muscle pop out. When you contract both sides of those, the right and the left SCM muscles, you get that forward shift of the head. The tongue is fascially connected there and it's fascially connected to the strap muscles of the neck.

As we said before with the anatomy trains, it goes down connecting to your diaphragm, your breathing muscle, and then it's connected to your hip flexors, to your pelvic floor, to your inner thigh, all the way down to your muscle in your shin, behind your shin, and then into the foot. That's why we see that connection - foot issues, pelvic floor issues, jaw issues - they all can be connected, even though they seem like they're not remotely related to one another, but they can be.


The Tongue In Connection With The Lymph

So with the tongue, some other important things that go on with the tongue that we probably don't think about is that it is made up of a lot of muscles and it is important for it to be strong and work well because it also has a lot of lymph tissue in it. If you heard me talk about lymph before, if the lymph is stagnant, it's going to leave you inflamed.

If you feel like you have a swollen tongue or puffiness to it, that would be swollen lymph tissue and it's a stagnation of the lymph fluid. It’s not draining properly. And where that lymph fluid should flow into are these glands underneath the jawline and different parts of the tongue drain into different areas and then filter down and through the neck, headed towards these main trunks, right at the collarbone, that are the main highway for how your lymph flows.

So if this is getting stagnant in the tongue, it's going to directly affect how the flow of lymph fluid is in your neck, into your collarbone, behind your collarbone, and affect how our neck feels in a very profound way.


The Tongue In Connection With Rest And Restore Mode Of The Nervous System

Another cool thing with the tongue is that the tongue placement that I had talked about earlier with it being pressed to the front of the teeth, so it's hitting more of your hard palette when it does that because of its nerve innovation, it is going to make us more in the fight or flight mode of our nervous system. And when we draw the tongue up and back along the more, the soft palette that is going to help us switch into that rest and restore mode of your nervous system. So it is very important in healing and those kinds of things, because it's very difficult to heal and rest when we are in fight or flight.

So if it's something as easy as moving your tongue placement to help facilitate that switch from fight or flight to rest and restore, I think it would be a no-brainer to start incorporating that into your day-to-day. So something super easy that you can do now, you're probably going to notice throughout the day that your tongue is really pushing against your teeth. When you notice this, you need to draw it up and back and it's a muscle like any other, so if it's new to you and you haven't done it, it's going to fatigue quickly and you'll just have to slowly build that muscle memory and that strength in your tongue to make it be healthier.  


The Tongue In Connection With Nose Breathing

Another interesting thing that I found with the tongue is that it would be very difficult to have that proper tongue placement with being a mouth breather. We want the tongue up to the roof of the mouth and back towards the soft palette. That really wouldn't be possible with having your mouth open and being in a mouth-breathing state.

There are other reasons for wanting to use nose breathing instead of mouth breathing. Nose breathing helps to filter the air, keeps you healthier, moistens the air as it comes in, facilitates inhalation of nitric oxide, which is a vasodilator, and helps transport oxygen throughout the body. It also helps you engage your diaphragm. If you’ve read any of my other blogs, we love breath work and we love helping to engage the diaphragm because it helps with core work, it helps with stabilization of the spine, it ties right into our hip flexors and our pelvic floor, and it also helps to stimulate the vagus nerve.

Another interesting point there is that the vagus nerve, which is that switch from parasympathetic to sympathetic and back and forth, is that vagus nerve stimulation. We can get that through diaphragmatic breathing. There's also a vagus nerve branch that innervates the tongue. So there is a connection there as well.

So those are some of the other reasons why nasal breathing would definitely be something we want to shoot for. And people go as far as taping their mouth shut when they're doing certain athletic activities to kind of train that in and tape their mouth shut when they're sleeping. It sounds super crazy and I thought it was crazy to try myself at first, but it made a difference in my quality of sleep. And it's something that's super easy to do. Some people say that they can't breathe through their nose because of a broken nose or deviated septum or that type of thing, but I think a complete blockage of your nasal pathway is very rare and you probably can breathe through your nose a lot better than you think you can if you train it, practice it, and you work on it.

So I encourage you to, if that is where you're at, where you just find it's difficult to breathe through your nose, I encourage you to practice it because it is a skill that you can work on and make better and it will help with your tongue connection. Since we know that the head goes where the tongue goes, it can definitely affect the whole chain all the way down. And I'm talking all the way down to your feet, because if your tongues forward, and it’s pushing your head forward, that shifts our body forward. And then our calves, and hamstrings are clinging to tightening on to keep us from falling forward. It's going to put a lot of tension on our heel bone and can irritate our plantar fascia. So with your plantar fasciitis, you could go down the rabbit hole and connect it all the way back to your tongue, pushing on the front of your teeth, tipping you forward, and causing strain down that entire back chain of your body.

With that, there are a lot of different obscure connections that can definitely be holding you back from rehabbing an issue if you don't check all the different areas.



So that is a little spiel on the tongue and how important it is. And some really easy things that are not going to cost you any time in your day, because I know everyone is super busy and it's difficult to do a lot of extra time in your day to do exercises and those kinds of things.

So simply, be more mindful of where your tongue's placed at throughout the day, bring it up and back, and then try to breathe through your nose, and you'll probably see some changes there.

I would invite you and encourage you to take a look at your tongue, see if it has a coating on it. If it's purplish, it's an indicator of inflammation and if you have teeth marks in it, it's an indicator of some weakness in the muscles.

So there are a few different things you can look for on your tongue to see if there's something you need to work on.

If you have any questions, you can drop it in the comment section or you can send me a message through Facebook or Instagram. I’d be happy to do another blog about your questions. Also, if you want me to talk about something specific, let me know!

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