Having a jaw that can open and close pain-free is more valuable than one might realise. Until we experience jaw pain or dysfunction, we might take things like chewing and yawning for granted!
My clients have varied over the years from those who are unable to open their mouths due to pain, those who can open but experience a painful click at one or both sides, those with ear pain or headaches or some who have no pain but limited movement.
The causes of their jaw dysfunction have included stress (clenching or grinding), prolonged mouth opening for dental work, poor posture, trauma and changes to jaw alignment after surgery. Some people however have no known precipitating factors causing their jaw pain. These would be the people I would check alignment of the rest their body, as a loss of control elsewhere in the body may be causing unbalanced pulls across the jaw joints.
When a client is suffering from jaw pain, no matter what the cause, I will mostly advise a soft diet for at least a week. Not only are the muscles painful, but the joint itself has a disc or cushion in between the bones which has pain sensitive areas. So, for the jaw, chewing a piece of toast or a steak is like hopping up and down on a sprained ankle. Rather just get out the food processor and stick to soft foods until the pain subsides.
After a stressful time, we might all notice an increase in tightness in one side or both sides of our jaw. When we’re stressed, a natural reaction is to tighten our jaw muscles to clench our teeth together or grind them together. Sometimes it might happen while we’re sleeping and unaware of it. Other times during the day when we’re concentrating or feeling pressured.
If you notice yourself doing this during the day, take yourself through some imagery until you find the right image for you – eg imagine both jaw joints are hard cold butter, melt the butter until its soft. Or imagine light air bubbles through both jaw joints. Or touch the tight parts of your jaw and imagine space opening up under your fingertips, like balloons inflating. Whichever image helps your jaws to relax and allows your top and bottom teeth to separate in a relaxed manner is the right image for you. Its an easy way to keep reminding your jaw to relax – just think of your image whenever you feel the jaw tightening.
PAIN IN THE MORNING
If you’ve been clenching during the night and wake with jaw pain, you can try to ease them using something called ‘recipricol inhibition’. How this works is that when a set of muscles is under tension, the brain sends messages to relax the muscles which work in the opposite direction. So if you gently place your closed fist under your jaw and slowly build up some tension as you try to open your jaw against your fist. (No straining, just gentle tension) Hold this tension for five to ten seconds and then relax completely. Repeat this three times to see whether it might give some relief to your clenching muscles. If it causes pain, don’t continue. Rather have your jaw assessed by a professional.
The position of the jaw is reliant on the position of the head on the neck, the neck on the thorax, the thorax on the pelvis and the pelvis on our knees and feet. So if you’re struggling with a jaw disorder and you don’t know a definite cause, get a full body assessment to check whether your jaw is not the victim of poor control elsewhere in your body.
If you’re sitting with your chin poking forward (typical computer posture), your clenching muscles have to work even harder just to stop your mouth from being pulled open. (Try slouching and poking your chin forward without tightening the muscles which keep your jaw closed. The jaw opens!)
When sitting a computer, try to imagine a puppet string attached to the base of your skull, and another attached to the top of your thorax (the highest bone between your shoulder blades). Very gently suspend yourself upwards. (Not much force is needed, no straining or arching) Keep your upper back lightly resting against your chair for as much time as possible.
A CLICKING JAW
If the disc(cushioning) is placed under tension due to muscles being tight, it can shift out of position so that it no longer slides between the bones of the joint. Instead it may stay in front of the joint, limiting how far we can open our mouths, or it may snap back into position during opening, causing a ‘click’ and allowing the jaw to open further.
The muscles would be the first structures I would try to relax to create more space in the joints to help the disc slide between the bones. Massage inside and outside the jaw can relieve tightness, as can dry needling.
If you’re suffering with jaw pain, or need advice, book in for a one on one assessment.