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By Shawn VanderBrook

Is your jaw causing you pain when chewing, yawning, or opening your mouth? Are you wondering why your jaw hurts?

There could be various reasons why you are suffering jaw discomfort and pain. Often, jaw pain is caused by muscle tightness, spasm, or weakness which is typically caused by something from elsewhere in the body.

The jawbone fits together with the skull forming a hinge joint. This hinge joint can be pulled out of position, which can cause one side of the jaw to open further or faster than the other side.

This can cause irritation of the joint surfaces, which results in pain just below the inside of the ear where the jaw bones fit together. This joint is the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ).

You can feel your TMJ joint just by your ear upon opening and closing your jaw. If you have pain in this joint, then it could explain your issues with yawning, chewing, or speaking.

There are three main symptoms that could point to TMJ Dysfunction – restricted jaw movement, joint noise (or a popping sensation), and facial pain.

What Is Causing My TMJ Dysfunction and Jaw Pain?

There are various different factors that could cause TMJ Dysfunction and jaw pain. While specific conditions – such as gout, fibromyalgia, or rheumatoid arthritis – can be associated with TMD, the most common causes are often less dramatic.

One of the most frequent actions that cause jaw pain? Muscles. Overusing your jaw through clenching or grinding teeth (whether through stress or during sleep – known as Bruxism) puts pressure on the joint. This can lead to wear and tear on the joint, referred to as osteoarthritis.

Many of us grind our teeth inadvertently when feeling stressed. Not only can this cause osteoarthritis, but it can develop into extreme dental pain (and expense) when wearing down the teeth. Your joint pain could be a result of a dental infection, too. We all have different levels of pain threshold. So best to get yourself checked out.

You may have suffered a joint injury and not recovered properly after a traumatic facial injury or not fully healed after surgery. Your TMD joint may have changed post-surgery to allow too much flexibility (known as hypermobility) or too little movement (known as hypomobility).

You could have developed malocclusion, where you have an uneven bite. This usually stems from dental surgery for new fillings and dental crowns. If you’ve recently started using new dentures, then this could also be your cause of malocclusion.

We also need to take your lifestyle into account. For instance, do you sit for long stretches at your desk without a break? Are you sitting properly during this time? When you sit in a slouched position, your upper and lower back are rounded and your shoulder blades roll forward away from each other. In addition, your head juts forward.

As a result, slouching, rounded shoulders and forward head position place uneven and abnormal pressure on the jaw since the muscles that attach to the jaw are not working together evenly, which then causes irritation of the jaw joints.

In turn, this irritation of the jaw and its joints causes inflammation around the jaw, which then leads to muscle spasm and cramping, as well as pain and popping at the attachment of the jaw. Oftentimes, headaches located in the back of the head also accompany the jaw pain as well.

Can I Do Anything to Relieve the Pain at Home?

Regardless of what is causing your jaw pain, there’s an imbalance in your muscles. You can help yourself by undertaking a few home remedies to help alleviate your pain in the short term.

Try to avoid chewing excess gum and don’t put duress on your joint with tough foods. Opt for softer meals and try to avoid opening your jaw wide until any pain settles. If the pain lingers, gently massage the muscles that surround the joint. This can help to relax the tension and relieve stress.

Also try not to clench your teeth for extended periods of time and don’t rest your chin on your hand. If you do any of these things and the pain builds, then you can try applying a heat pack to relax the muscles. If you are struggling with swelling (it can happen), then a cold compress can reduce your pain.

What is my Best Long-Term Solution?

Check your symptoms against the following factors. If any of these apply, then get in touch with your physical therapist.

  • Tenderness and painful sensation when eating, chewing, talking, or yawning, especially if that pain is located by or in your ear, or across your face or neck.
  • Pain when opening your jaw, or experiencing restricted movement and a feeling that your jaw is ‘stuck.’ You may also hear uncomfortable clicking, popping, or grinding noises when chewing.
  • Pain in your teeth and gums due to excessive grinding of the jaw, which can lead into difficulty sleeping and maintaining weight.
  • Side effects of jaw pain such as headaches, tinnitus (white noise in your ear), ear ache, neck pain, shoulder pain, and a blocked feeling in your ear.

You don’t have to put up with pain or side effects as your new normal. People often try to adapt to pain as a constant in their life when they feel nothing can be done about it.

Physical therapy is your most effective treatment procedure for regaining normality. Your therapist can offer exercises and lifestyle adjustments to help alleviate your symptoms and get you back to life.

Shawn VanderBrook

Shawn VanderBrook

Shawn VanderBrook, PT, DPT, OCS is on staff at Cardin and Miller Physical Therapy. He received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science at Slippery Rock University and his doctorate in physical therapy at Slippery Rock University. Shawn enjoys treating a variety of orthopedic and musculoskeletal conditions. He completed an orthopedic residency program at St. Francis University and is now an Orthopedic Certified Specialist. While at St. Francis, he worked with a variety of Division I athletes and community members, and gained useful experience rehabbing complicated surgeries, sports injuries, overuse injuries, and concussed athletes under the St. Francis concussion protocol. He has also received intensive training on treating complex foot and ankle injuries and to also manage and modify custom orthotics. You can contact him at svanderbrook@cardinmillerpt.com or go to their website for more information at www.cardinmillerpt.com.

Featured in Harrisburg Commercial Real Estate Report – May 2021