How to Treat Jaw Pain
Do you grind your teeth when you sleep? Did you recently have dental surgery? Were you diagnosed with TMJ dysfunction? Have you ever injured your face? If you’ve had to endure any of these possibilities, my guess is that you’re experiencing some degree of jaw pain.
Thankfully for those who are affected, jaw pain is treatable. And early intervention is important, so don’t wait too long before seeking relief! Jaw pain, when left alone for an extensive amount of time, can easily lead to other issues. An unbalanced jaw causes a sort of ripple effect on your body, impacting everything from your head down to your feet.
How is this?
When your jaw muscles are off balance, the surrounding muscles in your face and neck are likely to tighten. When your neck muscles tighten, your shoulder muscles have to compensate for the limited mobility in the tight neck. And then the back muscles compensate for the tight shoulders, and so on and so forth until the untreated jaw has tightened every one of your muscles.
As if that nasty chain of events isn’t bad enough, jaw pain can cause a good number of other problems too. Headaches, nausea, dizziness, poor posture, and compromised breathing may arise. And you can even develop issues that further jaw pain, such as bruxism (aka, that involuntary grinding of the teeth I mentioned at the start of the article.) Yes, if you weren’t already grinding your teeth, jaw pain can cause you to grind your teeth.
Ok! I wrote all these terrible things to motivate you to take control! Here’s some ways to ease the jaw pain and prevent further damage.
At-Home Remedies for Jaw Pain
Heat eases muscle pain and stiffness. Apply a heat pack to your face for 15 minutes, 3 times per day.
If your jaw pain is accompanied by swelling, heat therapy may not be the best option. Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling associated with jaw pain. 15 minutes at a time, 3 times per day.
You can always use both hot and cold therapy! Just remember to always start with heat and then follow with ice. Heat will loosen up the tension, cold will reduce the inflammation.
This may be more of a preventative measure than a curative one, but it can also keep pre-existing jaw pain from worsening. For your protein snack, maybe avoid the brick-like granola bars for now and opt for yogurt. And if you accidentally left your cereal box open for a few days and the flakes are all rubbery and chewy… it’s squirrel food now, so disperse it in the yard. Stick with softer food!
And take small bites! (Although at this point, you really may have no other choice. Your jaw’s limited range of motion might not cover the size of a large bite.)
Please, please, PLEASE don’t let this be your only means of pain management. Medications will lessen the pain and help you get through the day, sure. But ultimately, they only mask the problem and offer temporary relief. You’ll have to treat the root of the problem to truly heal. Massage and hot/cold therapy will release the muscle fibers in and around your jaw. Make time for one or all of those in addition to OTC pain relievers.
There’s a jaw massage technique that I often use on clients, but I also use on myself! The video below is a very helpful jaw self-massage tutorial. You get an informative jaw anatomy lesson in the beginning, but you can skip to the 2-minute mark if you just want to see what the massage looks like.
Professional Treatment for Jaw Pain
Have you ever heard of intraoral massage? It’s one of the most common treatments for TMJ pain, but can be used to treat and prevent any cause of jaw pain
If intraoral massage seems a little too invasive, a regular massage can offer relief too. Your facial muscles, scalp muscles, neck, and shoulders could all use some work when your jaw hurts.
Acupuncture reduces pain through direct stimulation of the nerve, which changes the quality of signaling along nerve cells. Acupuncture also stimulates the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters which help to block the perception of pain by the brain.
If a vertebral misalignment is the root of the jaw pain, a spinal adjustment may relieve the pain. A chiropractor may also perform active release therapy on the jaw muscles, or apply specialized tools (ie. chiropractic adjusting tool, ultrasound, etc.) to the jaw.
A physical therapist will assist you with restorative jaw exercises and stretches. You’ll learn how to do jaw strengthening and mobilizing techniques on your own too! Just always remember to keep your exercise/stretch with proper form!
Just One More Thing!
While bodywork and at-home remedies are crucial to recovery, there’s another thing you should keep in mind: emotional stress. Stress is a major cause of jaw pain. It can negatively impact your sleep, which can cause jaw pain. It can make you involuntarily grind your teeth, which is also a cause of jaw pain. And it often gives you a headache, which both causes and is caused by jaw pain.
Make sure to take care of your mental health. Do something that relaxes you. Be mindful of your breathing. Consider taking a break from social media. And never be afraid to talk to someone, whether it’s a friend or a professional.
Stay happy, healthy, and pain free!
Author, Licensed Massage Therapist
Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.
Pavia, Steven, et al. “Chiropractic Treatment of Temporomandibular Dysfunction: A Retrospective Case Series.” Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, vol. 14, no. 4, Dec. 2015, pp. 279–284, 10.1016/j.jcm.2015.08.005.
“Self Care.” The TMJ Association, tmj.org/living-with-tmj/self-care/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2021.
Shen, Yoshi F., et al. “Randomized Clinical Trial of Acupuncture for Myofascial Pain of the Jaw Muscles.” Journal of Orofacial Pain, vol. 23, no. 4, 2009, pp. 353–359, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19888488/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2021.
Stuhr, Sarah H., et al. “Use of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy to Manage Chronic Orofacial Pain and Tension-Type Headache in an Adolescent.” Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, vol. 22, no. 1, 19 Dec. 2013, pp. 51–58, 10.1179/2042618613y.0000000054. Accessed 28 Feb. 2019.
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