Chiropractors can treat more than your spine! We address all kinds of pain conditions for women, including jaw pain. Learn about common causes and symptoms of pregnancy & postpartum jaw pain & how to find relief with our PRO TIPS!
Jaw Pain | The Basics
We get it. Jaw pain is annoying— it's a joint that never rests [hello eating, breathing, & talking]! The ‘jaw joint’ is technically called the temporomandibular joint or TMJ. On either side of the face, the TMJ acts as a hinge connecting the jaw to the skull. Between the two bones is a soft disc, similar to the ones in your spine. TMJ pain often stems from swelling in the joint space which affects the disc and the surrounding tissues. There are many factors that play into jaw swelling and the consequential pain, we have listed some of them below!
Common Causes :
- Teeth Grinding [bruxism]
- Anxiety or Stress [jaw-clenching]
- Neck Pain/Neck mobility issue
- Open Mouth Posture [wearing a mask can exacerbate this!]
- Going to the Dentist [prolonged open mouth and strain]
- Ear Infections
- Ill-fitting Retainers and Mouth Guards
- Arthritic Conditions [Rheumatoid arthritis or Osteoarthritis]
In order to open your mouth, the jaw has to lower AND protrude. The opposite is true to close your mouth. The basic function of the jaw involves multiple movements, muscles, and ligaments. This makes joint mobility issues in the jaw more common, causing inflammation. Inflammation = Pain.
Most women report the jaw pain being more one sided, but you can have symptoms on both sides. You may notice other symptoms that are related to your jaw pain, like the ones we've listed next.
- Jaw or facial pain [at rest or when chewing foods]
- Jaw locking, catching, or clicking
- Popping and grinding jaw sensations
- Decreased range of motion [standard opening is ~3 knuckles]
- Neck pain
- Ear pain
- Sinus pain
- Tinnitus [ringing in the ears]
- Change in alignment [crooked jaw]
Jaw Pain in Pregnancy
During pregnancy and postpartum, jaw pain looks similar to what you would experience outside of pregnancy. Jaw pain can come on at any point in your pregnancy, and if you’ve battled with TMJ pain in the past, you may notice your symptoms get worse through pregnancy.
Although research is slim on the topic, it is thought that the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy play into jaw pain. Mainly, the rise of estrogen and relaxin making ALL the joints in the body more lax and instable. However, as the breast tissue grows during pregnancy, women develop rounded shoulders and neck tension, which shouldn't be overlooked since the neck and jaw are so interconnected. More on this next...
Postpartum Jaw Pain
During postpartum, there are big changes in a women's day to day activities. Mamas are holding and feeding their newborn for hours on end every day, which causes changes in their posture. The 'problem child': the neck. Neck tension is the result of repetitive movements, nursing postures, and odd sleeping positions during postpartum. The jaw has a lot of nerves communicating with it from the upper neck. So its no wonder that neck and postpartum jaw pain go hand in hand.
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Pro Tips for TMJ Pain
In office techniques & at home exercises that will help you relieve that pesky jaw pain!
In the clinic, we look at both the neck and jaw when treating TMJ dysfunction. We most commonly find joint or mobility restrictions and subsequent muscle tension in the upper cervical spine [neck]. Chiropractic adjustments calm muscle tension in the upper neck and they restore the communication between the nerves, TMJ, and its musculature.
There are both cranial nerves [nerves coming from the brain] and spinal nerves [nerves coming from the spinal cord] that control and respond to the jaw. They are all very closely related to the base of the skull and upper cervical segments of the spine, hence why neck adjustments can be so impactful for jaw pain.
The TMJ itself can also be mobilized using our hands or an activator. The goal of a jaw adjustment would be to restore mobility within the joint space.
Jaw Trigger Points & Oral Massage
Relieving muscle tension is a key component to relieving jaw pain. There are muscles and ligaments we can target from inside the mouth. The two muscles are the medial and lateral pterygoid muscles; they act to move the jaw side to side and forward. They are common problem muscles with clicking jaws that shift to one side during opening.
There are many ligaments supporting the the jaw’s joint capsules. With our jaw trigger point massage, we target some of the key ligaments to improve muscle tension, which improves mobility.
Muscle Work on the Jaw & Neck
Working outside the mouth and jaw is just as important when treating jaw pain. On the outside of the jaw, there are two muscles key for jaw function that we focus on. The TEMPORALIS in the temple area and above the ear + the MASSETER muscle located on the upper cheek angle, in front of the ear.
Begin by placing a finger on the muscle you want to work on [the temple region or the upper cheek]. Using gentle but firm pressure, traction down the jaw. Repeat 3-4x each side.
Any neck tension or neck muscle pain should be addressed. Adjustments are AMAZING, like we talked about earlier. BUT we also recommend gentle soft tissue work and specific stretches.
There are some really simple lifestyle, specifically diet, modifications you can take if you are dealing with jaw pain. Don't worry, for most people, these modifications are a forever thing!
Do your best to choose foods that are kind to your jaw! What isn't kind to your jaw? Hard to chew foods like raw carrots and hard candies. These foods require a lot of muscle work that is tricky for the jaw muscles that are already sore . Large sandwiches or burgers can also be difficult since it requires opening your mouth real wide. If you are wearing a night gaurd for a non-emergent reason [like teeth grinding], try a night without it! You may need an updated or smaller gaurd that allows your jaw to sit in a more natural position.
What to Avoid If You Have Jaw Pain
- Chewing gum
- Hardy or chewy candies
- Raw carrots
- Large sandwiches
- Large apples [cut them up!]
- Open mouth posture [more on this next...]
You should make sure to practice good mouth posture to help relieve TMJ pain! Resting posture of jaw is having your mouth closed but your jaw relaxed. The final piece of good mouth and jaw posture is the tongue. You should always rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth, the hard palate. You can then comfortably breath through your nose. If you wear a mouth guard, retainer, or any other oral device, make sure it fits properly and allows your jaw and tongue to rest properly.
Having your jaw closed tightly with teeth touching or clenched will place extra stress on the joints. We often see this with an increase in stress and/or anxiety, especially with postpartum jaw pain.
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