Jaw Aches to Headaches to Shoulder Pain

Jaw Aches to Headaches to Shoulder Pain: Understanding the Link

We use our jaw all day long. You’d think that you only use it when talking or chewing, but we do stuff with our jaw all day. Our jaws are very proprioceptive. When we focus or concentrate, it is common to clench our teeth. I am convinced that the reason smoking was so popular was because it was something that we could do with our jaw without gaining weight. There is a kinetic chain (how one muscle is connected to another muscle and another muscle) from our jaw to our neck to our shoulder to our arm, to our elbow, and to our hand. This means that when we are sitting in front of a computer, focusing and getting stressed, we can be clenching from our jaw into our neck into our shoulder and our elbow and hand.

The best way to describe it is this: You can make a fist and involve your hand. Now, you can make more of a fist and involve your hand, elbow, and shoulder. Now, you can make even more of a fist and involve your hand, elbow, shoulder, neck, and jaw. That’s why powerlifters are taught to grit their teeth- it closes down and tights up their kinetic chain, allowing them to get the most out of their muscles. If you have a shoulder issue (pain, dysfunction, injury, etc) and you clench or grind your teeth, you won’t be able to get rid of your shoulder issue unless you address your tight jaw. The same applies to your neck; if you have a neck issue and clench your jaw, it would be best to treat your jaw to relieve neck pain.

Does your jaw lock? Does it pop or click? Does it get stuck? Does it cause pain? Does it pop out of the socket? Do you have pain around the jaw? All of these are symptoms of TMJ-D (Temporo-Mandibular Joint Dysfunction). The TMJ is the joint that your jaw hinges on. You will feel the TMJ moving if you put your fingers just in front of your ears and open your jaw. If you have pain associated with the TMJ, there are a few tricks you can employ to treat it. First, if your dentist says you are grinding your teeth down, get one of those expensive, $500-$700 a night or bite guards. They are costly but worth it. It is a hard plastic that discourages you from chewing.

The less expensive sports mouthguards that you can get at Dicks will be soft plastic or rubber, which encourages chewing or grinding. Even if you grind through one of those expensive night or bite guards and have to bite the bullet (pun intended) and buy another bite guard, it will be worth it. I have heard from many patients that getting caps on your teeth is rough. It is expensive, time-consuming, and painful. If you can avoid grinding down your teeth with a bite guard, even 2, it will be worth it in the long run. Yawning is the best stretch for your jaw if you can feel yourself grinding or clenching. Don’t yawn to the end range if your jaw is tight and sore. It might get stuck if you do.

Listen to your body slowly yawn and stretch your jaw open. Place both index fingers on the outside bottom corner of your jaw. Move your index fingers forward and up about an inch. They should be below the cheekbone and on a big muscle. This muscle is called the masseter. You can treat it by feeling around for the tight and irritated areas and lightly pressing on both sides at the same time. You can also touch all your fingers to your skull, above your ears. Slowly work them up towards the top of your head. Press on these lightly if you feel sore spots or stringy muscles. These are trigger points in the temporalis muscle. Treating the temporalis and masseter muscles will help to alleviate jaw, head, and neck pain on most people.
If you try home treatment and you are not able to alleviate your pain, then come to my center for trigger point therapy (Nimmo, Receptor Tonus) and deep tissue laser therapy. They will both help heal your TMJ-D and get it back working, moving, and functional.

You can also check out my blogs at www.cohentriggerpoint.com. There is one in particular (with videos) on how to treat your TMJ at home.

Have a Pain Free Day.