How to reduce jaw pain while mask wearing

Author: Jessica Segberg

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced a year where more patients came to me with concerns about jaw pain worsened by mask wearing. Why is that, you might ask? The Temporomandibular joint, a hinge joint that connects your jaw to the skull, and more specifically the Masseter muscle, can be tremendously affected by stress – and this past year has been stressful! 

Did you know that by size, the Masseter can exert more force than any other muscle in the human body? It can produce over 200lbs of force on the molars! That applied  force caused by added stress can lead to Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJD).

Symptoms that cause TMJD

  • Stress-based clenching 
  • Poor posture 
  • Tooth grinding 
  • Gum chewing 
  • Jaw misalignment 

Furthermore, TMJD can lead to tension headaches, migraines, temple pain, tooth damage, ear pain, clicking or popping in the jaw, and general jaw pain.  

How TMJD is exacerbated with mask wearing

Mask-wearing has exacerbated symptoms of TMJD for many of my patients. There seems to be a tendency for mask-wearers to protrude the chin forward or tense the jaw muscles to hold the mask in place. Additionally, some patients report an increase in mouth-breathing when wearing poorly fitting masks or feeling out of breath, and this open-jaw posture further strains the muscles of mastication.

How to prevent jaw pain when mask wearing

  1. First, ensure the mask you’re wearing fits you well. It shouldn’t be so tight that it restricts your jaw from opening properly and it shouldn’t be loose enough that it requires frequent adjustment. 
  2. Second, it might be helpful to try a mask extender or ear saver hook. Tight ear loops on a mask can irritate the muscles and the nerves that run along the side of the scalp, and can produce headaches that travel to the temples. 
  3. Third, if fit isn’t an issue, work on trying to remember to breathe through your nose. Relax your jaw, ensuring not to hold your teeth together, and rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Don’t press your lips together and try to avoid pushing down the chin to adjust the mask.

Just like any other muscle in the body, the facial muscles will fatigue when overused. 

TMJD treatment with Massage Therapy

If you can’t get relief with any of the tips I’ve provided, specialized Massage Therapy can be an extremely effective treatment option. We firstperform a health history, followed by an orthopaedic assessment of the jaw and surrounding joints. We evaluate for decreased range of motion, joint noises, deviation, and muscular/myofascial imbalances. Once we’ve established a clinical impression, external or intraoral treatment can be provided. These techniques are much gentler than what most deep tissue patients are accustomed to.The techniques typically involve gentle muscular releases, trigger point release, gentle mobilization of a hypomobile joint (when indicated), cupping therapies, and gua sha. Your massage therapist will also provide suggestions of remedial exercises or treatments that will help to correct postural dysfunction that may be exacerbating your TMJD. Whatever the cause, TMJ pain isn’t something you need to live with. We’re here to help!

Jessica Segberg
Registered Massage Therapist at Pivotal Physiotherapy

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