It’s been stressful these last few months. If you’re someone who holds on to your stress physically, you might find your shoulders are tired, your neck feels stiff, and now your jaw seems to ache, too. Also, with frequent mask wearing, I’ve heard more people mention their jaw seems to feel stiff and sore by the end of the day.
What does this mean? Should you book an appointment with the dentist?
Not quite! The temporomandibular joint (or “TMJ”) is what allows your jaw to move as you eat, drink, and speak. The joint sits close to your ear on both sides of your face. While wearing a mask, you may have to restrict some of that mobility in order to keep the mask on your face, especially if it loops around your ears. Plus, if clenching teeth is your physical manifestation of stress, the masseter muscle in the jaw can tighten and give you aches and pains. It’s a big muscle, and it’s the one that helps you chew. If it’s tight, it can restrict how wide you need to open your jaw in order to take a big, juicy bite out of a burger (or whatever your post-work delight may be!).
A couple of these strategies may feel strange, but try them out, especially if you find your face somehow feels stiff by the end of day, when you never thought that would be possible.
When you have your mask off, place your hands on either side of your face, close to the ears. Let your jaw relax and use your hands to pull down – almost like you’re making a face to scream, but relaxed! (I know, seems strange, but it will feel good!)
Sit upright and do chin tucks. I don’t mean bring your chin down, rather, I mean think about bringing your head back. If you’re doing it correctly, you will have a “double chin” with each tuck.
Self-massage your face. Place your fingers close to your ears, and open and close the jaw. You’ll feel the TMJ moving underneath. Then, move your fingers a little further away from the ear, towards the cheek, and you’ll find the masseter muscle. It’ll feel firm and maybe a little tender; massage in circular motions with moderate pressure.
DON’T CHEW GUM. When your TMJ is the source of pain, chewing gum will engage the masseter muscle (as it should) but it may only irritate your symptoms. Chewing gum is a highly repetitive activity – you need to chew to eat, but don’t chew just for fun when you’re feeling jaw pain.
We know working from home hasn’t been easy, but we’re here to help you! As always, if you have questions or need more help with jaw pain or headaches, contact us today for an evaluation!
By Laura Vroman