Believe it or not, you may be contributing to your jaw pain without even knowing it. How you talk on the phone, your posture, and what you eat can all cause tension in your jaw muscles. Additionally, when you are in pain in places other than your jaw, you are more likely to hold tension in your jaw muscles. It is common to clench your teeth with pain. So watch how you perform your daily activities. You may be negatively affecting your jaw!
Actions that contribute to TMD (Jaw Pain)
Do you slouch while sitting and/or standing? Slouching can strain your jaw and neck muscles throughout the day.
Do you rest your chin in your hand? If so, your head likely tilts, and your jaw deviates from its normal straight up-and-down hinge action. This puts extra stress on your jaw, which may cause your jaw to pop and/or be in pain.
Do you hold your phone by lifting your shoulder to your ear? This also strains the neck and jaw. When you talk with your head in an abnormal position, the neck muscles aren’t in a neutral position, making it difficult for your jaw to glide open without pulling to one side. Repetitive pulling on the jaw during use eventually sprains it, causing pain.
Do you pull on your jaw to stretch your neck? This can sprain your jaw. You don’t want to injure your jaw while attempting to stretch your neck.
Do you talk with tension in your jaw? Make sure your jaw moves freely when you talk. If your mouth doesn’t move much during articulation, you are likely straining your jaw muscles.
When chewing your food, do you chew on both sides evenly, or do you favor one side? Chewing on one side more than the other can lead to muscle imbalance and joint dysfunction.
Do you like chewy foods? Do you chew on ice? Excessive chewing can strain your jaw. Try avoiding chewy foods for a week. If your jaw is a lot of pain, avoid chewing for a week by eating soups and smoothies with a spoon. (Drinking a smoothie from a straw can irritate the jaw.) Resting your jaw for a week or two while doing the gentle massages and stretches in Chapter 6 should allow the jaw muscles to heal enough that you can reintroduce soft foods and eventually chewy foods. Just make sure you eat chewy foods sparingly (no more than a couple times a week) because it may cause your jaw symptoms to return.
Do you chew gum? If you do, you shouldn’t chew on a piece of gum for more than a minute and no more than three times a day. Preferably, you don’t chew gum at all.
Do you find yourself clenching your jaw? If you do, try pressing the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. This should help you relax your jaw muscles.
How Clenching Your Teeth at Night Affects Your Jaw
If you clench your teeth while you’re sleeping, the first thing you must do is protect your teeth from the powerful compressive forces the jaw muscles can exert on your teeth. At a minimum, buy a mouth guard from a pharmacy. You may also want to talk to your dentist about getting a mouth guard specific for your needs.
The mouth guard will not stop you from clenching, so it will not fix your TMD, but it will save your teeth from cracking under the pressure.
Like any muscle that contracts for a long time without rest, clenched jaw muscles inhibit nutrient-filled blood from flowing in at a time when they need more nutrients for this chronic contraction (Figure 3-3).
Figure 3‑3: Relaxed versus contracted muscle affecting blood flow.
Clenching also obstructs lymphatic drainage, which removes the excessive waste produced by these spastic muscles, and squishes the nerves running through the region, irritating the nerve and causing the muscle to contract further (Figure 3-4).
Figure 3‑4: A relaxed muscle and happy nerves versus a contracted muscle and irritated nerves, causing a vicious cycle of muscle contractions and nerves firing from the pressure of the muscles contracting.
This creates a vicious cycle of starving muscles festering in their own waste, but they can’t stop contracting because the irritated nerves continue to misfire.
To break this cycle, you must consciously disengage the muscles and relax! The jaw muscles are small and mighty. To relax them, stick out your tongue as far as you can. Then curl your tongue so the bottom of the tongue is touching the roof of your mouth.
Try it. Feel how your deep jaw muscles have to relax to allow these actions.
I advise patients who clench their teeth at night to open the jaw straight with their toothbrush, and then stick their tongue out, holding that for five breaths, and then curl the tongue under the roof of the mouth.
This deep stretch will hopefully carry over, keeping the jaw relaxed well into sleep. If you wake up with a tense jaw, repeat these stretches.
The Key to Easing Jaw Pain
Basically, try to keep your jaw, neck, and upper back muscles relaxed. Jaw tension can also pinch nerves, resulting in jaw pain, tooth pain, and/or facial pain (like having sciatica of the face). Upper back tension can put pressure on nerves and send pain to the jaw.
If you have head, jaw, or neck pain, stretching and massaging your head, neck, and jaw muscles can help. For specific stretches and massage maneuvers for your specific pain, seek the advice of a healthcare provider.
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