Little do we know it, but our jaws can often be the receiving end of a lot of mental stress. Whether it’s in a heated argument with a co-worker or silently grinding our teeth during the night, our jaw muscles and our teeth can be the center of unconscious anxiety.
All this stress can give this part of our face quite a beating without us even knowing that we’re doing it. This causes our jaw muscles to tighten up. A tight jaw can lead to discomfort in other areas of your body, such as your ears, face, teeth, and neck. Some may even feel quite a bit pain from a tight jaw, from sore to outright debilitating. Chewing or yawning may exacerbate these feelings.
Plus, there seems to be a pretty strong connection to jaw clenching and headaches. Other signs of jaw stress can be a limited range of motion when you try to open your mouth, clicking sounds and even locking of the jaw joint. Other less common sources of jaw pain can derive from inflammation and injury. None of these sound very pleasant to experience.
In any case, we obviously use our jaws for all sorts of daily activities needed to simply survive. Our teeth and mouth muscles are constantly at work to process nutrients as they go into our stomach, chat with our co-workers or chew gum. We pretty much can’t survive without our jaw functioning in a comfortable state. Therefore, it’s vital to understand how the jaw muscles work and how we can keep them shape.
Let’s break down the anatomy of your jaw a little more. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the actual jaw joint. It’s composed of two sections separated by a disc, which absorbs shock to the joint from chewing and other motions. The muscles attached to TMJ joint move the jaw up and down, forwards, backwards and sideways.
When people suffer from pain, headaches or a lack of mobility in this region, it’s often termed temporomandibular disorder or TMD. Anything that inhibits the joints and chewing muscles from working together properly is considered TMD. It can actually constitute a wide range of problems in this generalized area, and surprisingly enough effects women more than men.
Luckily, there some basic stretches we can do to help alleviate all this tension in our jaws. Just like our arms, back and legs, our jaws are muscles just like any other and through just some regular movements, loosen up this area if it’s giving us problems. Jaw joint stretches can help increase the jaw’s range of motion and both diminish symptoms of TMD as well as condition these muscles against future injury.
Jaw stretches are super simple to do and don’t require a mat or gym to perform. It’s easy to incorporate them into your daily life as you work at your computer, read a book or meditate. If you’re experiencing discomfort in your jaw region, try some these movements below and perform them regularly throughout your week for a number of weeks. They should alleviate much of the tightness you may be feeling.
And of course, always consult with a doctor or dentist if you continue to have problems, serious pain, or believe your jaw muscles have a more serious injury than just tightness.
Joel is the founder of IMPOSSIBLE and the founder of MoveWell. Joel founded MoveWell after sustaining an injury while running an ultra marathon on every continent. Joel is writes about mobility, pain management and health and wellness overall.