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3 Ways to Assess Jaw Pain

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Is your jaw discomfort preventing you from enjoying family meals and business lunches?

Read on to learn about possible sources of this discomfort and what you can do to relieve it.

man eating with family

I recently had a client see me for jaw tension. A designer by trade, relocated to Philly from abroad just before the pandemic hit, she explained, "My jaw is so tight that it feels like someone is jamming it shut all day! It is constant and sometimes I wake up with my jaw locked. I can't open it. I can't eat. I need help!" By the time she had ended up in my office, she had already been to see her primary, a chiropractor, her dentist and had made her way through a slew of Youtube university tips. Not all were useless, but nothing was able to get to the root (no pun intended) of the issue.

Unfortunately, this is an incredibly common story that I hear often--even more so since pandemic masking practices. All too often, folks with jaw tension and pain have to journey through a medical jungle of physicians, questions, tests and expenses with little to no relief, and a lot more stress.

"The measurement of facial pain and TMJD is complicated. There is no standard definition for TMJD; it is measured by asking about various types and durations of muscle, joint, and facial pain, difficulty with chewing, joint sounds, etc." - NIDCR

I don't believe this is because our medical personnel are incompetent, but that the body and its language of imbalance, is often evasive, complicated and not fully understood (we just discovered a new muscle layer in the mouth after nearly 100 yrs of "definitive" anatomy knowledge!). We simply need the right resources of time, curiosity and patience to hear the body's signals.

The following are some examples of these signals you might already be noticing!

#1 - Clicking, Clunking, Not Tracking

You just bought the JYS from Angelos. It's Fresh. It's beautiful. You unwrap it with ritualistic care and raise it to your mouth and open wide. There's a LOUD POP as you make contact and try to bite down. To your incredible disappointment (and hunger), you can't seem to finish this masterpiece of a hoagie due to your jaw clunking in and out of groove with its joint.

This typically denotes a structural issue with one or both sides of the jaw (TMJD). Sometimes pain accompanies it, but not always. Often, there is an imbalance of tightness on one side and over-laxity on the other. Most, people live with this issue for years not knowing that it is very addressable and you can find relieve from this with massage.

#2 - Burning, Twitching, Spasming

Nerve pain can be excruciating and terrifying, especially when it feels unrelenting! You can identify nerve involvement because it often shows up as burning, electricity, or if it is impacting the musculature, you may be having fascial twitches and spasms (long term cramping of the muscle). While EMTs and Dentists may be able to help narrow down the source of symptoms in some cases, and even temporarily relieve symptoms of pain, many people experience the limitations of technology to be able to identify exactly where along the nerve chain it might be affected.

Nerves are often long, windy, and tubular, ideally gliding through our fascia, between muscles to innervate our motor and sensory abilities. Nerve referral is what happens when a nerve is being irritated somewhere along its long tubular body, but we experience or feel it at the end of the nerve (think, squeezing a tube of half empty toothpaste in the middle and it comes out the end). For this reason, it takes time and patience to assess the whole nerve body in order to locate where the irritation might be happening.

#3 - Clenching, Grinding, Locking

Last, but certainly not least, if you have ever woken in the morning and your jaw won't open, fear not! You have not been cursed by the Sandman (most likely). Bruxism is a condition in which one grinds, clenches or gnashes the teeth, either while awake or during your sleep. It is a subconscious behavior, typically, and is often related to high levels of stress that have not been able to mobilize in the body. *Check out my post on Somatic Bodywork and Stress Cycles for more on this!*

The Good News!

I've had the incredible fortune of getting to work with many such individuals over the years, exploring the landscapes of the jaw, inquiring about its needs, and finding relatively non-invasive solutions for relief. Using intraoral massage techniques, as well as Somatic Stress Release practices, we can begin to support your body back to its natural state.

If you having been experiencing severe jaw discomfort (pain, immobility, clicking, locked jaw etc), and have been feeling frustrated by the lack of relief, reach out to learn how we might work together to resolve your jaw pain!

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