Updated: Aug 27
What is the TMJ?
The Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ) is a joint located directly in front of the opening of the ear canal on either side of the head. It is made up of the lower portion of the jaw (mandible) and the temporal bone of the skull hence the name Temporo-Mandibular Joint. It acts like a hinge to open and close your mouth, chew, yawn, and talk. The key muscles surrounding this joint are the Masseter, Temporalis, and Pterygoid muscles.
What causes of TMJ pain?
STRESS! I can't say it enough, stress can actually cause TMJ pain. It is a natural place to carry stress and tension. Secondly, there are several other factors that can contribute like, previous injuries or traumas, genetics, arthritis, chronic teeth grinding, and poor posture are also common causes. Lastly, it is not uncommon to feel symptoms of TMJ dysfunction like headaches, jaw pain, and ear pain after wearing face masks regularly, day in and day out.
How would wearing a mask lead to cause pain?
Depending on how many hours a day you wear a mask and which type of mask you use, you may be feeling an increase in jaw pain, ear aches, numbness/tingling, tooth pain, clicking or grinding when you chew, locked jaw, or headaches. The mask itself may be the culprit. The ear loops on a face mask rests on the ear at an angle which pulls the ear slightly forward and down. This the exact direction that causes compression on the TMJ. Just like with any other joint, compression leads to dysfunction and dysfunction over time leads to pain. In this case, it prevents you from being able to open your jaw all the way. Muscles that usually get stretched while talking or yawning are no longer be able to stretch nearly as much! Secondly, the straps located behind the head can compress and irritate muscles and sensory nerves located on the back of the head. While these things may seem insignificant, the prolonged effects can be quite substantial.
3 Simple Stretches for TMJ: Wearing masks is likely going to be a reality for all of us for the foreseeable future so, be proactive by stretching your jaw and neck at the end of a long day. This will prevent those muscles from becoming too tight and painful.
Start by placing your fingers on the lower border of your jaw as if you were feeling for your back molars outside of your mouth. You want to be in the middle of your jaw so halfway between your ear and your mouth. Create a gentle force upward while you slowly open your mouth. Hold for 1-2 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Using the same technique place your fingers on each side of your head, on the upper aspect of your temples. It will likely be slightly above the end of your eyebrow. Place gentle but steady pressure upwards while you slowly open your jaw and much as you can. Hold for 1-2 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Hook your fingers on the back corner of your jaw, right in the nook between your jaw and your neck. Hold your fingers steady and jut your bottom teeth outwards (forward) slowly and as much as you can. Although a very subtle movement, it will help stretch all the little ligaments located right over the TMJ. Hold for 1-2 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Want more? This is a great YouTube tutorial of a very in-depth version of jaw stretches and exercises! Check it out and follow along if you can. Stop and skip over any moves that cause pain or aggravate your symptoms. Let me know what you think!
Chiropractic care, Acupuncture, and Massage are very effective at relieving jaw pain, headaches, and various TMJ symptoms! If you have been suffering and need some help, we are here for you! Contact us with any questions or to schedule your appointment today!