Everyone deals with stress differently, but as a TMJ doctor in New York City and Long Island, I treat jaw and face pain, plus headaches, neck pain, and more in my patients every day – all as a result of their stressful lives.
During this health crisis, you are likely dealing with a high level of stress yourself. You may be sleeping poorly, exercising less, tensing your shoulders, breathing in a strained way, or grinding and clenching your teeth at night (or even during the day). All of this can lead to headaches, pain in your neck and back, or the emergence of pain in your face, teeth, and jaw.
Could You Be Developing A TMJ Problem?
If your face and teeth begin to ache or if you are experiencing tight and painful jaw muscles that make it hard for you to open your mouth or chew, you could be developing a TMJ problem.
It’s easy to understand why you may be experiencing new pain symptoms or the escalation of old ones in the presence of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.
Holding your breath, bracing your jaw muscles, furrowing your brow, clenching your teeth, biting your nails, raising your shoulders, and any number of other actions fatigue your muscles. You could be sitting at your desk and computer for more hours than usual, which fatigues your neck muscles, resulting in soreness that escalates into intense jaw pain, neck pain, or headaches.
The best you can do while you’re at home is to become hyper-aware of how this is impacting your mind and muscles.
How To Treat Jaw and Face Pain During This Stressful Time
The best thing you can do to treat jaw and face pain right now is to pay more attention to your body. Here are some great tips:
Control Your Daytime Breathing
Notice if you’re holding your breath or breathing more quickly than normal. If so, do this:
- Take a moment, listen to your breathing and try to slowly breathe in through your nose for three seconds bringing air into your core.
- Then let the air out for three seconds through your lips and then pause for three seconds.
- Sometimes putting the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth or alternatively behind the lower front teeth as you breathe makes this effort easier.Repeat 6 times.
Note: If your nose does not let air in, which is quite possible during allergy season, breathe in through your mouth in a slow, controlled way with your lips barely touching. There are no absolute rules; just do the best you can.
Loosen-Up Your Face and Jaws
Notice if you are holding tension in your face or bracing your jaw muscles, especially when you are at the computer, reading, or listening to the news. An effective way to treat jaw and face pain caused by tent is this:
- Let your jaw hang limp, the way your hands hang when they are dropped by your side
- Keep your lips together, teeth apart
Do this every time you notice tension in your face or jaw.
Biting your lips, cheeks, nails, or cuticles, can all lead to jaw muscle fatigue and pain. Try the tips below that may help you stop biting:
- Try to keep your lips soft and not “purse” them.
- Let your face and jaw hang in a neutral, relaxed posture (see above).
- Try to keep your lips touching lightly and your teeth apart (you don’t have to keep your mouth open.
Soften Your Shoulders
Many people experience headaches and neck and jaw pain, which is actually a result of tense shoulders. This is called referred pain. Try this:
- Notice how you hold your shoulders; if they are hunched up close to your ears, stop and gently push them down.
- Don’t cross your arms.
The above can ease neck tension and allow for easier breathing. Also, it can reduce the onset or intensity of muscle tension that causes pain.
Get Up & Move Around
Sitting in one place for hours and hours isn’t a good idea even in more normal times.
- Get up every 45 minutes and move around, even if it’s just to throw in a load of laundry or cook a meal.
- If you’re experiencing neck tension or pain, the Feldenkrais Method® is a great way to manage it. It’s an easy and gentle method to ease neck tension, which will lessen the tension in your jaw at the same time.
Use Moist Heat
To treat jaw and face pain, here’s what I recommend:
- Use a wet towel, heat pack, or TMJ wrap (available in many pharmacies) that can be warmed up in the microwave
- Apply the moist heat for 15 minutes
- Follow the heat with gentle jaw muscle massage, here’s how:
- Open your mouth half-way.
- Take your index and middle finger and massage the fleshy part of your jaw muscles in a circular way for 10 seconds
- Move in the opposite direction for 10 seconds.
- With your mouth still half-open, move your fingers to your temples right under your hairline and perform the same massage technique. (You want to feel the soreness in your muscles as you massage)
Perform this twice a day.
Purchase A TENS Unit
If your pain is severe and moist heat isn’t helping, go online and purchase a TENS unit (Nursal EMS TENS unit) and place the pads as directed on your jaw muscles (masseters) and big neck muscles (trapezius) once or twice a day. Most of these devices come with simple instructions and you can also watch videos online for how to use them effectively. They are often used to treat face and jaw pain.
Another method that works for many people to treat jaw and face pain is rubbing Biofreeze® into their jaw or neck muscles several times a day. Make sure to keep it away from your eyes.
Calm Your Mind
Try an online yoga or meditation class. The app Insight Timer has tons of meditation courses, and most are free. Headspace, Calm, and Buddhify are also great apps. Find one that fits your style and needs. Just try not to make it a challenge for yourself to your life. Regular calming techniques can help keep your entire body loose and relaxed.
If Your Body Is Tense During Sleep
If you wake up with headaches, facial, jaw, or teeth pain, you are likely clenching or grinding your teeth at night. Try this:
- Drink warm chamomile or Sleepytime® tea before you go to bed
- Magnesium can help, so before you retire for the night, eat a banana or ask your pharmacist to recommend the best over the counter magnesium product
- If you’re really suffering, purchase a dental appliance at your pharmacy. The best choice is made by DenTek™, but note, some of my patients report these over-the-counter devices actually make them clench more!
You may not be able to completely turn-off your pain immediately by following the strategies noted above. But you can treat your jaw and face pain at home by keeping your muscles loose and your mind calm you can predictably reduce your symptoms
Let’s hope that within a short period of time life will normalize and give us all a chance to feel better, both physically and emotionally.
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