A headache or a sore throat is a known condition that can cause us discomfort. There are many conditions that can cause discomfort or pain in our body. However, we generally do not tend to think about our jaw muscles causing discomfort. A tight jaw can cause discomfort and even pain in many parts of our body, such as the head, neck, face, teeth, and even ears. Many people suffer from tight jaw muscles, often simply referred to as TMJ pain. The intensity of pain when suffering from TMJ problems varies from person to person, but it generally feels like a throbbing and achy kind of a feeling. You can feel that your jaw muscles feel tender.
Activities like chewing or yawning are likely to increase the intensity of the pain. It’s not necessary also that if you have a tight jaw then you will feel pain only in that particular part of your face. The location of the pain can vary between the jaw, nose, ears, mouth, and even include only one or both sides of the face. So what exactly if tight jaw muscles and what causes the condition? Let us take a look at the causes, symptoms, treatment options, and some home remedies for treating tight jaw muscles.
What is Tight Jaw Muscles?
The condition of tight jaw muscles is known as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain. It is associated with the mandible, which is known to the biggest and the toughest bone of the face. The mandible serves the purpose of supporting the lower teeth. These joints are in fact the only joints in the body that move on a hard tissue. Tight jaw muscles generally occurs when the jaw becomes misaligned due to trauma, a bad bite (malocclusion), or any other reason. It causes you to experience pain and discomfort while chewing or even yawning. The intensity of the pain varies according to the activity you are doing. The exact location of the pain also varies. The pain from tight jaw muscles is usually spread over either one or both sides of your face, the jaw, ears, mouth, and nose.
Symptoms of Tight Jaw Muscles
The most common symptom of tight jaw muscles is having a headache. Sufferers of this type of a headache caused by TMJ have often described it to feel like a ring of pain around the head. This pain is known to worsen when the sufferer speaks, yawns, or grinds his or her teeth. What happens is that the constant contraction of the mandible muscles creates significant stress and strain on the face, the head, and the neck. These muscular contractions also lower the amount of blood that goes to the head. Thus, the body responds by sending more blood to the head, increasing the blood pressure in the head, giving rise to a headache.
Tight jaw muscles can also cause pain in the joint of the jaws and other surrounding muscles. It is also known to cause pain or locking in of one or both the hinge joints. These hinge joints are located between the temporal bone and the lower jaw. These are known as the temporomandibular joints, thus the name of the condition.
This condition can also cause a throbbing or aching pain along with tenderness in the ear, the jaw, and the face.
Chewing generally increases the feelings of pain and also produces a grinding sensation or a clicking sound.
Some of the other symptoms of TMJ include:
- Pain in the cheeks or swelling in the cheeks. You may also experience muscle pain or cramps in your cheek muscles, going towards the ears.
- Experiencing the sound of your jaw joint. While gently moving your lower jaw from left to right or vice versa, you will feel the sound of your jaw moving quite clearly. You can also feel this sound while yawning or chewing your food.
- Pain in the jaw muscle. Feeling pain in your jaw muscles while opening your mouth is also an indication that you may have tight jaw muscles. Keep in mind that by the time you feel this symptom, your condition has already reached a severe stage.
- Facial pain, dizziness, and swelling of the face.
While any kind of pain can be frustrating, such kind of chronic pain which results from tight jaw muscles, it can often cause depression and anxiety. Due to the poor diagnosis of symptoms, patients with tight jaw muscles often tend to suffer from depression.
Causes of Tight Jaw Muscles
Let us look at some of the possible causes of tight jaw.
One of the biggest causes of tight jaw muscles is stress and anxiety. Feeling stressed can often lead you to inadvertently grind your teeth or clench your jaw while you are asleep. Sometimes even when you are awake, you may clench your jaw without realizing you are doing it. Clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth can lead to a feeling of tightness in your jaw and this can cause pain while you sleep and even while being awake. This jaw pain worsens while eating or talking. Along with tight jaw muscle, stress can also give rise to tension headaches, worsening your condition.
Bruxism or Teeth Grinding
It’s not necessary that clenching or grinding is always caused by stress. Dental problems such as misaligned teeth, or even genetics, may play a role in teeth grinding or clenching. Many people grind their teeth while sleeping. It can also occur while you are awake, though it is likely that you are not consciously aware of doing it. Bruxism can cause you to feel soreness or tightness in the face, upper/lower jaw, and neck. Bruxism can also cause an earache or a headache.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
RA is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation of the muscles and joints of the body. It has been observed that nearly 80 percent of people suffering from RA also have tight jaw muscles, causing tightness in the jaw. Rheumatoid arthritis is known to also cause damage to the joint of the jaw and the surrounding tissues. RA can also cause bone loss in the law.
Chewing Excessively or Improperly
If you are in a habit of chewing gum or any other substance excessively or if you have developed the habit of chewing improperly, then this can also cause tightness in the lower jaw.
It is possible sometimes that osteoarthritis occurs within the temporomandibular joints. It is known to happen rarely and can cause loss of function and deterioration in the jaw bone, the cartilage, and even tissue. This condition causes tight jaw muscles, resulting in a painful condition. This also causes the pain to radiate to surrounding area.
Tight jaw muscles can also be caused by the following:
- The joint disk get reduced or moves from its proper position or alignment
- Cartilage of the jaw joints gets damaged due to some reason, most probable arthritis
- There is a joint injury due to a blow or impact
- Joint muscles are overworked and thus fatigued. Grinding of teeth frequently can cause this.
In many cases, though, the cause of TMJ remains unclear.
Treating Tight Jaw Muscles
The discomfort of TMJ is well known. The first treatment option for dealing with tight jaw muscles includes heat, cold treatments, along with over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Whatever treatment option you choose, the underlying basis is that you will need to give your mouth some rest. Avoid talking if you can, have easily chewable foods, and stop grinding your teeth or biting pencils. Having chewing gum is also a big no-no.
For an effective cure of tight jaw muscles, it is important that the condition gets diagnosed correctly by the doctor. After the correct diagnosis, proper treatment will provide you with much physical and psychological relief.
Medication, exercises, and psychological therapy will temporarily relief in the pain that is caused by muscular contraction.
Doctors may also prescribe surgery of the blood vessels in the brain to realign the temporomandibular joints and bring them to an optimal position. This surgery, known as neuromuscular dentistry surgery, is known to provide relief from the chronic pain. However, this surgery is known to be expensive and also carries a high risk of post-surgery complications.
Some other treatments that may help you get relief from tight jaw muscles include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or OTC pain relievers
- Prescription medications such as muscle relaxers or antidepressants
- Botox injections
- Stretching exercises for your head and neck
- Shortwave diathermy laser treatment
Home Remedies for Tight Jaw Muscles
Cooling and Warming
Applying a cold pack is an effective home remedy when you feel a sharp pain in your jaw can help as the cold will serve to numb the nerves, thus relieving or dulling the pain messages that get sent to your brain. You can use a couple of soft cold packs, wrapped in thin towels, and hold them against both sides of your face. You can do this for about 10 minutes or longer, but not longer than 20 minutes as this may cause mild frostbite. If your pain does not subside, then you can repeat the same after 2 hours.
If you have a dull and steady ache, instead of a sharp pain, you should opt for applying heat rather than cold. Heat is an excellent home remedy that will increase the blood circulation to the area and help relax your jaw muscles. To do this, you can soak a couple of small towels on warm water and hold them against your face for about 20 minutes. Keep running them under hot water to keep the towels hot.
Massaging the area around your jaws is an excellent home remedy to relieve the muscle tightness and also increase the blood flow to your jaws. A couple of times in the day you should open your mouth and massage or rub the muscles by the ears, near the temporomandibular joints. You should place your fingers on the areas that are paining and move them around. Press gently till you feel the muscles relax. Now close your mouth and repeat the massage again.
Now reach into your mouth till you can feel the sore muscles inside. Press down firmly with your finger and massage one side, then the other side. You should try to get as close to the joints as possible.
The process does not end here. Now, to finish off the process, massage the muscles on the side of your neck. While these muscles do not directly control your jaw, but massaging them will help you lower the tension that is contributing to your jaw pain.
Wearing a mouth guard will be helpful, particularly if your jaw tightness is caused by grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw in your sleep. Many types of mouth guards are available and you will need to find one that is specific to the cause of your condition. Your dentist or your doctor will be able to recommend the correct mouth guard for you to use.
Stretch the Jaw Joint
Stretching the jaw joint helps stretch the jaw and neck muscles, providing relief to your pain naturally. You can do this in the following manner: Press the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. It has to touch directly behind your teeth, and not actually touch the top front teeth. With your tongue, continue to apply pressure gently and slowly open your mouth as wide as you possibly can. Now slowly close your mouth.
Do not do this exercise if it is causing you pain.
You should also stop at any point where you feel pain or discomfort.
This stretching exercise home remedy for tight jaw muscle should be done up to 10 times in a day.
Changes in Eating Habits
You may not be aware that dehydration also causes muscle cramps in the shoulders, the neck, and even in the mandibular joints. Therefore, it is very necessary that you keep yourself hydrated properly to avoid the problem of tight jaw muscles. Not drinking enough water is one of the biggest causes of having the pain cramps related to tight jaw muscles. Increase your water intake to at least 8 glasses a day or even more.
A study found that TMJ sufferers usually suffer from a nutritional deficiency of magnesium and calcium. Therefore, adding calcium and magnesium supplements to your food will provide relief from tight jaw muscles pain. You can also increase your magnesium and calcium intake by loading up on almonds, avocados, cashews, corn, oatmeal, pumpkin, sesame butter, sesame seeds, spinach, whole milk, walnuts, squash, sunflower seeds, etc.
Avoiding excessive chewing and allowing your jaw muscles to relax will help prevent jaw pain and ease tight jaw muscles. You should also try to have softer foods that are not sticky as these will not require you to chew much.
Reducing your stress and anxiety levels will also help in preventing tight jaw muscles and jaw pain.
If, after trying everything, you notice that none of these prevention techniques are working, then it is a good idea to talk to the doctor or consult a dentist.