According to WWWJDIC, 歯止め is used as follows:
歯止めをかける; 歯止めを掛ける (exp,v1) to curb; to halt; to apply brakes; to put an end to
The English translations have a pretty good correspondence with the imagery, especially if you consider 歯車.
Consider the opposite action:
To get things moving; to get it in drive; to weigh anchor; to find purchase; to stop spinning wheels; to find traction; to [actually] get started; to get underway
What would be a Japanese expression that corresponds? 取りかかる, 緒に就く, 切り口, and 糸口 all come to mind, but they're still not quite right. The physical lurch when a vehicle or mechanism starts delivering power is the key to all of these English expressions; I would like to get as close as possible while staying within natural expressions.