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The Myth of ‘Mask Jaw’: What Really Causes Jaw Pain

The Myth of ‘Mask Jaw’: What Really Causes Jaw Pain

If you notice an increase in jaw pain, especially after wearing face masks for long periods of time for work, school or other activities, you might think you’re experiencing what some have labeled “mask jaw.”

However, it turns out “mask jaw” is a myth; jaw pain, also known as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome or temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMD), has nothing to do with wearing a face mask.

Rather, the pain in your jaw stems from a number of factors, including:

  • Physical tension/stress
  • Breathing posture
  • Sitting posture
  • Work-from-home ergonomics

While the pain feels as though it’s concentrated in your jaw, TMJ is almost always connected to your neck, which can result in headaches, too.

The good news? There are several ways to reduce the pain and prevent it in the future.

Daily Stress Can Lead to Jaw Pain

It’s important to recognize that the stress of everyday life can lead to musculoskeletal pain. In the case of jaw pain, stress impacts posture and tension through the jaw and neck.

For example, stress causes people to clench their jaws while awake or asleep, creating excessive pain and producing muscle tension. Daily stressors can lead to excessive or repetitive movements throughout the jaw, face and neck area, creating overuse pain.

To relieve stress, try these approaches:

  • Exercise
  • Take nature walks
  • Meditate
  • Stay connected with family and friends
  • Eat a healthier diet
  • Make it a point to laugh more
  • Speak with a professional counselor

How to Rest Your Jaw

Most people give little thought to how they physically breathe — until it starts to cause pain.

But there are techniques you can put into practice to ensure you are resting your jaw properly and avoiding pain:

  • Let your tongue rest up toward the roof of your mouth
  • Keep your lips touching together lightly
  • Keep your teeth apart
  • Breathe through your nose

If you’re wearing a face covering/mask, this jaw/breathing posture also is important to use.

Mind Your Sitting Posture

Sitting improperly can lead to poor head, neck and jaw posture, which in turn creates stressors and tension in those same areas.

For example, working from home on the sofa or at the dining room table can lead to pain.

Instead:

  • Use a comfortable, ergonomic desk chair
  • Sit up straight
  • Keep your knees level with your hips
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor
  • Set the top of your computer screen at eye level and an arm’s length away
  • Adjust the keyboard to be at or slightly below elbow level
  • Move armrests or other arm support high enough for your elbows and forearms to touch the surface
  • Adjust the armrests downward if you feel your shoulders shrugging upward

Physical Therapy Can Help with Jaw Pain

If you are experiencing jaw pain, physical rehabilitation can provide relief. Call 1-888-44-REHAB or request an appointment online.

Catherine Dara, PT, DPT, OCS, STC, is site manager at Good Shepherd Physical Therapy/Bethlehem Performing Arts Center, specializing in TMJ syndrome or TMD, performing arts rehabilitation, outpatient orthopedics, manual therapy, cervical, shoulder and knee injuries.

Harold Millman, DPT, OCS, STAR/C, is site manager at Bethlehem Rehabilitation Specialists (BRS), A Service of Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, specializing in TMJ syndrome or TMD, orthopedic and sports therapy, spine/posture dysfunction, joint replacement rehabilitation, cancer rehabilitation, fall prevention/balance assessment, ergonomic assessment, temporomandibular therapy, orthotic evaluation and prescription and individually designed home exercise education and instruction.