Many people experience jaw pain from time to time for various reasons. Usually this tension can be alleviated, but it’s still important to determine what’s causing this tightness. Your jaw contains your teeth and a pair of bones that make up the lower framework of your mouth. You use your jaw to grip, bite, and chew food.

Pain, muscle tightness, and nerve irritation can occur as the result of overworking or stressing your jaw joints. Since your neck muscles connect to your lower jaw, pain or tightness in either of these areas can affect the other. You may also feel pain or tension in your shoulders or back.

Continue reading to learn more about the symptoms and causes of jaw tension and how it can be treated.

Tension in the jaw can be experienced in several ways. You may have mild or intense pain that’s achy, throbbing, or tender. Chewing or yawning can worsen symptoms. You may find it difficult to speak in some cases.

Jaw pain or tension can be felt on one or both sides of your face and can also affect your nose, mouth, and ears. It can also be felt in your head, teeth, and neck.

Symptoms of jaw tension include:
  • clicking sounds
  • earache
  • limited range of motion
  • locking of the jaw joint
  • pain on one or both sides of the face
  • shoulder pain
  • toothache

There are several causes of jaw tension with stress being a major cause. Emotional, chemical, or physical stress can cause jaw tension or pain. You may find that you clench or tighten your jaw when you’re stressed, anxious, or angry. Or you may grind your teeth while you sleep at night. This can cause physical pain.

Having poor posture during everyday tasks or sleeping on your stomach with your head twisted to one side can also lead to tension. You may have misalignments in your neck, head, or jaw. Sinus pressure as well as tension and migraine headaches can also lead to a tense jaw.

Other causes of jaw tension include:

  • bone spurs in the neck
  • bulging disc
  • excessive chewing
  • incoming wisdom teeth
  • neck degeneration
  • osteoarthritis
  • rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
  • tetanus

Here are some exercises that may help relax and stretch the jaw. Make a point to do these exercises throughout the day. Be consistent in order to see and maintain results. Check out these exercises if your jaw tension is related to TMJ.

Breath movement

  1. Take a deep breath and bring air into your mouth.
  2. Keep your lips closed and move the air around your mouth.
  3. Press the air to the cheeks, then up and down, and forward into your lips.
  4. Then blow the air out through your mouth.
  5. Do this exercise 3 times.

Make sure to keep the jaw as relaxed as possible during this exercise. You should also breathe normally through your nose.

Unlocking the jaw

  1. From a seated position, place a soft fist to your right jaw with your thumb facing down.
  2. Without moving your hand, turn your head to the right, pressing into your fist.
  3. Use your neck muscles to do this.
  4. Then, press your jaw into your fist, keeping your mouth slightly open.
  5. Release and repeat on the left side.
  6. Do each side 3 times.

NOTE: Stop this exercise immediately if it causes pain and contact your doctor.

Neck strengthener

  1. Interlace your fingers behind your head.
  2. Gently press your head into your palms while using your hands to put gentle pressure on your head.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Do this exercise 3 times.

NOTE: Stop this exercise immediately if it causes pain and contact your doctor.

You can seek out one or more treatment options to help to heal the underlying causes of jaw tension. It’s important that you find out and treat what is causing the tension. This helps to ensure your symptoms don’t recur. Speak to a doctor if your symptoms get worse or don’t improve.

In the meantime, there are several things you can do on your own to manage the symptoms of jaw tension.

Massage

Massage your jaw and your neck several times throughout the day to increase blood flow and release muscle tightness.

To do this:

  1. Use your index and middle fingers to press into places of tension.
  2. With your mouth closed, massage in a circular motion for 5 to 10 rotations in both directions.
  3. Then do the same movement with your mouth open.

Avoiding irritants

Reduce your intake of hard or crunchy foods and avoid chewing gum. Consume more soft foods and liquids instead, even if temporarily. Limit your caffeine intake since this can be a cause of muscle tension.

A hot or cold compress

Apply a hot or cold compress to ease inflammation and relax your jaw muscles. Apply the compress to the affected area for 10 minutes at a time. This can be done a few times daily.

A mouthguard

The Migraine Trust suggests that if you grind your teeth at night you may find it helpful to wear a night guard or occlusal splint. This can also help to relieve tension and migraine headaches.

Over-the-counter products

Topical analgesics such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be used. Peppermint oil applied topically may provide some relief for tension headache symptoms.

Don’t apply ointment, gel, or cream over broken skin, such as cuts, scrapes, or scratches that are healing.

Posture awareness

Be mindful of your posture throughout the day. Draw your skull up and back while sitting or standing straight. Make sure your head doesn’t jut forward, especially while you’re doing computer work or any other activity where you tend to lean forward.

Relaxation techniques

Set aside time each week for relaxation and stress management. This may help to reduce anxiety and tension. This can consist of breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation. Or you can do activities such as dancing, walking, or swimming.

Focus on relaxing your jaw as much as possible throughout the day. You might avoid pressing your teeth together by keeping your jaw slightly open. You can also check out these natural muscle relaxers.

You may wish to visit a massage therapist, chiropractor, or acupuncturist for treatments.