When someone complains of jaw pain, we obviously look at the jaw itself, but when do we consider problems in the jaw and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) as a source of pain somewhere else? If pain is present in the neck or upper back, the muscles that control the jaw and the joint itself must be evaluated. We also consider jaw dysfunction with headache sufferers as well. It is well researched that those with jaw pain or increased jaw muscle tone will have increased activity of the muscles that support the head and neck.
If the jaw needs treatment, it will consist of soft tissue work to the muscles around the jaw, most often the muscle that close the jaw, because they are working too hard, and any additional treatment to the neck, and upper back. The jaw itself rarely needs to be adjusted or manipulated. In addition, patients have to learn how to relax the tight muscles and wake up or stimulate the weak or lazy muscles.
A common problem that can lead to changes in the jaw is called bruxism. This simply means excessive clenching or grinding of the teeth. This is very common at night and sometimes this needs dental co-management in the form of a bite guard to help reduce symptoms. Clenching or grinding also happens during the day. This is common in people who complain of neck pain, upper back pain, headaches, or jaw pain later or at the end of the day. Here is a relief exercise I teach to those who clench or grind during the day.
- Sit or stand with good upright posture
- With your teeth apart, keep your lips closed
- With light pressure, put your tongue to the roof of your mouth
- Perform this as often as possible during the day when not chewing, talking, or exercising.
Just a side note…most people don’t realize that they do clench or grind their teeth. So the first step of this relief exercise is to realize that you are.
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