Masseter muscleOne of the main reasons why so many people suffer from a tense or aching jaw is because the muscles of the jaw are innervated by the same nerve that innervates our flight or fight response when we are stressed.  The Temporalis, Masseter, and Pterygoid muscles are used to bite, chew, and swallow.  They are all innervated by the  nerve known as the Trigeminal nerve or fifth cranial nerve.  It has many functions but we are going to focus mainly on its connections to the Jaw and the Reticular Activating System.

The Reticular Activating System or RAS is the system used to filter input as our brain takes it all in.  It helps to sift through what is a normal occurrence and what we need to respond to.  This is the part of the brain that is affected by psychotropic drugs such as LSD.   When we are under a lot of stress and likely not getting a lot of sleep our Trigeminal nerve is getting over-activated.  This then can create a tension in our Jaw muscles.  The muscles being tense create an abnormal pressure on the TMJ joint causing the pain many people suffer from.  To put it simply, stress can cause a tense jaw.

We all hold stress differently.  When it is held by a tight clenching of the Jaw and face muscles it can cause grinding of the teeth at night, TMJ joint dysfunction and can even lead to a syndrome known as “Lock Jaw.”  Lock Jaw is as the name implies when the jaw becomes locked either open or closed and can go on for months or longer.

So, it is  very important to act quickly if you are feeling pain in your jaw, as stated above, if left unattended it can lead to years of pain, rehabilitation and costly medical bills.  Certainly, speak to your dentist or doctor if any pain is felt in the jaw or upon awaking.  It is also important to try to manage your stress that may be causing tension in these areas.  Please see my article on pillows and bolsters as it can be helpful to sleep in good alignment when managing jaw issues.

Dr John Upledger,  who has been a pioneer in Cranial Sacral Therapy(a light touch healing modality) created a self help technique to help manage (along with help from a practitioner) jaw issues.  His International Organization known as the Upledger Institute is an organization dedicated to healing modalities of many kinds for many different ailments.  Cranial Sacral Therapy has been used to help Vietnam Veterans recover from post traumatic stress disorder as well as Autistic Children to have a better quality of life.  Please see related articles.  In this video, Jasetherapy explains and illistrates this simple technique, which can help aleviate tension in the temporal mandibular joint.

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19 Thoughts on “TMJ Jaw Pain and Stress

  1. Pingback: TMJ Symptoms and Treatment

  2. Pingback: TMD Treatments

  3. I struggled with TMJ for many years, and, it got worse and worse until I was debilitated by it. I didn’t take it seriously enough! What helped me was a couple of steps, number one being to recognize triggers that may bring about an episode. Just being aware allowed me to stop the onset of an “episode” before it kicked in, full swing. Good blog post.

  4. Hi Bev,
    I’m glad to hear you were able to finally get help with your TMJ issue. Yes, the first and most important response is “recognizing those triggers that may bring about an episode.” I really believe being aware of the bodies messages (i.e. pains etc.)are really the valuable protection against more serious and as you said “debilitating” progression of pain.
    Thanks for the response.
    Be Well,

  5. Becky on June 19, 2009 at 10:14 pm said:

    Hi. This was a great little video, very helpful, however what if you have all of the symptoms of TMJ but no pain? I was told that I had a stone in my parotid gland, but then the Ent doctor disagreed and said I had a swollen muscle and to treat it as such: heat, advil/ibuprofen etc.(didnt work)I went to the dentist and he confirmed my teeth clenching and grinding and I now have a mouthgard being made for sleep. I don’t know what to do, I dont want to have to pay for an MRI. I am just wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience? any comments would be greatly appreciated.

  6. I find this video very helpful, thank you:)

  7. Hi Yani,
    Glad you found the video helpful. Thanks for letting me know.
    Be well,

  8. Excellent post, it is truly a great read!

  9. I appreciate the feedback. Thank you.

  10. thanks for posting this – will try out the jaw relaxation technique, looks very helpful.

  11. Hi Chris,
    I hope it helps you. You may also try implementing any relaxation techniques that work for you (i.e. yoga, meditation, etc.) to help de-stress.
    Stress is often a trigger for TMJ dysfunction as mentioned.
    best of luck,

  12. Good video presentation. Helpful website. Thank you

  13. hi Sissy,
    Glad you found it useful.
    Be well,

  14. stephanie Marshall on April 20, 2011 at 8:03 pm said:

    I want to thank you , though diagnosed wtih tmj a year or two ago, I never thought it bothered me. I have a serious neck injury that I take celbrex for every day and I thought that the pain going going my jaw was part of that. Then I thought my lower retainer fit incorrectly . I went to the dentist and it is the tmj, at this point I can barely open my moth and the pain is horrible. No sleep at night. I now have a mouth guard. I am taking a muscle relaxer which is not helping so I am going to the doctor tomorrow. I watched your video and did the massage you suggested and it did help cut the pain some. First relief I have had in a number of days .Just wanted to know that this little respite has helped so much . I have been crying most of the day and this actually helped more than anything .thank you

  15. Hi Stephanie,
    I’m so grateful that this helped you. I hope that some of the purposeful info I’ve acquired over the years through various workshops and from experience with clients can be passed on to others. A pro-active approach to healing is key in managing issues. Keep on your path of searching for support. You may want to see if there is a local Cranial-Sacral Therapist in your area.
    hope you feel better and better,

  16. Ellie on June 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm said:

    Thanks so much for this video. I just did the massage and feel almost 90 percent better.

  17. thanks for this information…i’ve had an achy jaw for a few weeks now and becomes really uncomfortable after about 6/7pm every night and been to the doctor who didnt know what was wrong. I am always very stressed out and reading this article has helped me alot and im now doing the exercise to help my jaw..thanks

  18. hi from Canada
    thank you so much
    i was going to a chiropractor for the problem years ago.
    should go back.
    but this video helped me and i also know the things that do help me, time out for myself.
    Leave more,the Flight mode,lol , instead of fight thank you again.
    Susan from Canada

  19. oops forgot , Susan again from Canada
    your diagrams on the video were quite faint, need to use other illustration, maybe bigger and bolder in the lines

    cheers Susan

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