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How to Relax Your Jaw [Now and Continually]

8 min read
by Dylan Hao |

Is it taking a little more effort lately to open your mouth and do basic tasks like talking and eating? 

Are you waking up with discomfort in your neck and jaw?

These are two obvious signs that your jaw muscles are working overtime, and you need to learn to relax them before they “lock up.”

Tight jaw muscles often become a condition called “locked jaw,” where your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is so irritated that it can’t move. Keep in mind that a locked jaw is not “lockjaw,” a nickname for the bacterial disease tetanus. 

But this problem can still be serious.

If all signs are screaming that these muscles are overworked, relaxing them could be a simple fix. This guide has everything on how to catch the signs and relax your jaw now, as well as how to prevent future problems.

What Conditions Cause Tight Jaw Muscles?

You want instant relief for your jaw muscle pain, but the first step is to figure out what’s causing it.

Muscle fatigue can happen anywhere in our bodies when the tissues are overused or strained without proper stretching first. 

Yes, stretching! 

But when was the last time you did a warm-up of your masticatory (chewing) and facial muscles before you began talking a lot or eating chewy, sticky foods? 

It’s not something we think to do.

However, we use our jaw muscles so often that fatigue is a real possibility. Certain conditions increase the likelihood of muscle tension and a locked jaw.

If you notice soreness in your facial muscles, wake up with a headache, or hear clicking sounds when you use your jaw joint, you might have one of these common causes of jaw muscle fatigue.

Stress/Anxiety

Have you ever caught yourself so irritated with someone or something that you clench your teeth while you groan in frustration? 

When you have chronic stress or anxiety, even for short periods in life, your body may use that same clenched teeth method to get rid of some of those built-up emotions while you’re sleeping. 

This behavior, called bruxism, can lead to more serious side effects if it continues for too long.

Bruxism is often called teeth grinding. If you’re a “grinder,” you’ll notice problems with:

  • Facial muscle pain
  • Neck and shoulder discomfort
  • Morning headaches
  • Sore teeth and gums

One way to reduce these symptoms while you attempt to fix the stressful situations causing the grinding is to use a night guard

Custom-made guards, like those from us at JS Dental Lab, slide over your lower teeth to limit the contact between them and your upper teeth to reduce grinding damage.

TMJ/TMD

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is characterized by popping and clicking in the jaw and pain with the movement of those muscles. The two acronyms are used interchangeably, but TMJ actually refers to the joint, while TMD refers to the disorders associated with said joint.

Various disorders involve your TMJ. They all have one primary thing in common: they result in pain and dysfunction in the joint and muscles that control the movement of your jaw.

TMJ disorders need special care to treat. The joint is extremely sensitive, and any tiny irritation is enough to cause pain or limited range of motion. Your doctor may refer you to a TMJ specialist if you have this diagnosis. 

In the meantime, learning how to relax your jaw (see below) is a must.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions affect the jaw muscles and cause them to lock up. 

If your pain stems from any of these diagnoses, talk to your doctor before you start any exercise routine:

  • Tetanus — A bacterial infection that attacks the neck and jaw and interferes with breathing
  • Jawbone infections or dental abscesses — Spread into the bloodstream and can be fatal
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — An autoimmune and inflammatory disease that attacks the joints, causing swelling and chronic pain
  • Osteoarthritis — A degenerative joint disease that causes the tissues in your joints to break down over time

Many jaw-tightening medical conditions are treatable and manageable with professional help. Your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants for pain relief, physical therapy, or specialized medication. 

Follow your doctor’s orders to relax your jaw and manage your condition.

What Are the Symptoms of Tight Jaw Muscles?

Here’s the thing about locked jaw problems: they often start with symptoms that seem harmless. Over time, these symptoms develop into painful conditions. 

But if you recognize them early, you can begin preventative measures to relax your sore jaw.

When we feel stressed or tense, or our muscles are tight, a massage or soak in a hot bath does wonders. Neither method typically includes our jaw muscles as a focus, though.

Yet these overworked and underappreciated tiny joints and muscles could do with some TLC, too. They’ll tell you they’re being mistreated and forgotten by sending you symptoms. 

Pay attention and give this area a little extra attention and rest if you notice signs like:

  • Jaw popping/locking — Could lead to a TMD issue; if the popping doesn’t go away with rest, talk to your doctor
  • Grinding and clenching — Shows up as sensitive teeth and other dental issues
  • Earaches — Caused by pain and inflammation in the TMJ
  • Facial, neck, and/or shoulder pain — From jaw clenching

When these symptoms are mild, you’ll likely be tempted to ignore them or take some Ibuprofen and hope they go away, but you shouldn’t. 

This is the ideal time to practice relaxing your jaw. Fixing these issues early with a little natural help may prevent them from worsening.

How Can You Relax Your Jaw Naturally and Quickly?

When you’re dealing with a jaw that doesn’t want to move, your primary thought is to get rid of the pain ASAP.

Taking pain meds can relieve the immediate discomfort problem, but they don’t always help fix the tight muscle issue. When you’re hurting, or your jaw is tightening and you don’t want it to get worse, you can try these simple and natural strategies.

Picture your muscles as a brand new rubber band. It’s taut, but the more you move it, the wider it can stretch. If you try to pull on it too far and too fast, though, it’ll snap.

The same happens to your muscles when you overuse them without a gentle warmup. Stretching and exercising can reduce the “rubber band” snap, and trigger point relief and hot or cold compressions minimize the inflammation and pain.

Stretches and Exercise

model of human teeth

The good news about exercising your jaw is that you don’t have to break a sweat. As a bonus, these little movements can prevent or end the dreaded “double chin” problem none of us want.

Basic chin tucks (lifting your head up and down) help, but you need exercises focusing more on your jaw movement. 

Here is a gentle and easy stretch to get you started: 

  1. First, close your mouth and touch your teeth together without clenching them. 
  2. Move the tip of your tongue so it sits behind your upper front teeth. 
  3. Slowly slide your tongue back along the roof of your mouth to the soft palate near your throat, moving it as far as possible. Remember to keep your top and bottom teeth lightly connected. 
  4. Hold the tongue in place for five seconds, then repeat. Do this for about five minutes, twice a day.

Talk to your doctor about a referral to a physical therapist for more jaw exercises. They specialize in individual treatment plans that help each patient improve movement, manage pain, and restore functionality to muscles and joints.

Hot and Cold Compresses

blue ice bag

Before we get into the ins and outs of hot and cold compresses, we’ll start with a quick general word of caution: always keep a layer of cloth between your skin and the compress to avoid burns that come from direct contact. A general rule of thumb is to use ice or heat for 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. 

With that said, if you’ve just started noticing a problem, use an ice pack to reduce inflammation and ease the pain. 

A moist hot towel or hot pack reduces stiffness in the joint and helps with muscle tightness. This is perfect when you’re in long-term pain, but it shouldn’t be used until 48 hours after a new injury. 

Trigger Point Relief

A woman getting trigger point relief for jaw pain

Remember how we said you don’t typically massage your TMJ muscles? 

It is possible, and that’s what trigger point relief does.

Trigger points are those knots you feel in your jaw (and the rest of your body) that cause discomfort. Medically speaking, they are overly tensed muscles that tighten up into one “knot.” 

The masseter muscle spreads out over the jaw and completes chewing and clenching behaviors, so it’s commonly overused with mouth-opening activities.

The muscles become less inflamed and can heal with trigger point therapy, either manually or with a tool called an activator. This practice will need to be done in chiropractic and physical therapy offices or with a massage therapist or osteopath.

Manual therapy restores the natural muscle tone, relaxing the tissue and balancing it out to reduce pain.

Read more: Can TMJ Be Treated?

How Can You Avoid Increasing Your Jaw Tightness?

While seeking a solution to get rid of your jaw muscle pain, it’s vital to avoid the problems that worsen it.

Certain movements add unnecessary strain to those muscles and cause them to work harder. 

The TMJ area is sensitive to emotional stress and physical activity. Small changes in your day in the long term can reduce the extra pressure on your upper and lower jaw muscles and give them the chance to heal.

Lower Stress

First, find methods to reduce stress and anxiety so you’re not clenching your jaw unconsciously. 

This step is different for everyone. 

Some tried-and-true options include seeing a mental health therapist, journaling, and getting out in the fresh air daily.

Food Avoidance

Next comes the food avoidance part. What are you eating that could be making your jaw work overtime? 

Skip sticky and hard foods that need extra chewing, like steak and caramel goodies. Until you’re healed, gum chewing should be a firm “no.”

Reduce Neck and Shoulder Pain

Finally, you have several options to reduce neck and shoulder pain. Try changing your pillows and mattress to ones that match your sleeping style. If that doesn’t work, conservative treatment with chiropractic care, physical therapy, and massage may help.

What Can You Do to Get Rid of the Cause of Your Tight Jaw?

Treatments are amazing. They relieve your pain and let you get on with your day. 

But they don’t solve the problem underneath, and you don’t want to keep putting a band-aid on tight jaw muscles. 

Long-term fixes to your oral health don’t usually happen overnight. They’ll gradually improve the symptoms until you reach your optimal recovery state.

Fixing the cause of your pain will likely require working with an expert physician. 

Your doctor could recommend special care like:

  • A sleep specialist — If your jaw pain is from a disorder like sleep apnea
  • Corticosteroid injections — For severe TMJ pain
  • Laser treatment (diathermy) — To produce heat beneath the skin, deep into the subcutaneous tissue, and relieve pain

If none of these solutions work and your case is extreme, or if you had severe facial trauma, you could be a candidate for jaw surgery. Except for some trauma situations, surgery is usually the last method on a doctor’s list. It’s important to learn how to relax your jaw before the damage gets this far.

Read more: Is My Teeth Grinding A Sleep Disorder Or Parasomnia?

Conclusion

Relaxing your jaw gives those muscles the care they need to recover from a hard day’s work. With a night guard from us at JS Dental Lab, a few gentle stretches, and some other proactive strategies, you can avoid seriously damaging your sensitive TMJ area.

Ready to make a change and protect your jaw for a long time? Shop our large variety of night guards and put an end to teeth grinding damage.

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