What to Do if You Have a Pulled Jaw Muscle?
A pulled jaw muscle if often an unexpected occurrence. It can trigger pain on an otherwise normal day.
The jaw is a complex, vital system. It is made up of the temporomandibular joint’s (TMJ), jaw muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Each of these need to work together for optimal function. Since your jaw used for several essential functions, what do you do if you have a pulled jaw muscle acting up?
Daily, your jaw works by rotating, gliding, protruding, and retracting to during common functions like eating, speaking, smiling, and swallowing. These structures function harmoniously, often in a subconscious way. They accommodate smooth jaw movements in packaged muscle responses. It’s not a joint that you only use occasionally! Meaning, we believe this question, and related questions, merit answers.
What Does a Pulled Jaw Muscle feel Like?
The pain from a pulled jaw muscle may feel like a constant or periodic dull ache in front of the ear, in the ear, on the lower jaw and face and over the temples.
If you feel the following, it may be due to a pulled jaw muscle:
- Unexplained jaw pain.
- Jaw popping and/or locking of the jaw joint.
- Limited range of jaw movement.
- New or increased levels of jaw tenderness if you massage your jaw.
- Random muscle spasms.
- If you feel a headache or earache coming on.
How Common are Pulled Jaw Muscles?
Jaw joint issues from muscle strain or sprains is common. We don’t know the exact numbers because it often goes unreported, misdiagnosed, and/or misunderstood. Most dental professionals are more trained in typical dental procedures and may not recognize pulled jaw muscle injuries. Meaning, they may not relate these symptoms to a person’s need to see an orofacial pain specialist.
According to Orofacial Pain Specialist Dr. James Friction, DDS, MS, “Acute jaw joint sprain and muscle sprain/strain after dental procedures is more common than originally thought with more than 50% of patients with temporomandibular disorders (TMD) reporting their pain onset as a direct result of opening the mouth too wide or too long during dental care.”
What Muscle Group is Injured During a Jaw Sprain?
The muscles involved in operating the jaw are the muscles of the mastication: temporalis, masseter, medial and lateral pterygoid muscles.
Our jaw movements are complex and additionally involve three major ligaments used to stabilize the temporomandibular joint: They are the temporomandibular, stylomandibular, and sphenomandibular ligaments.
This masseter muscle covers the jaw over your teeth. Like any muscle, if it is traumatized or overused the muscles tend to become tense, inflamed and very painful. This muscles can also be overused from teeth grinding and jaw clenching.
If you have Temporomandibular Syndrome, Kushagra Maini at NIH wrote on April 28, 2022, that “Conservative treatment reduces symptoms in 50 to 90% of patients and should be adopted first.” The Minnesota Head & Neck Pain Clinicians can show you specific home care and exercises to perform daily that help loosen a pulled masseter muscle. Most of the time this muscle group is injured or malfunctioning, there is no need for invasive surgery.
What Causes Jaw Muscle Pain?
Your pain may be caused by a combination of factors and not just one thing. A sudden blow to the jaw will easily cause this pain as well as opening the mouth too wide or for too long during yawning, singing, or dental visits. Other factors, such as whiplash accidents or habits of tensing the jaw, clenching or grinding of your teeth and increased life stress can increase strain to your jaw. There are usually multiple reasons for a person’s pain in the jaw region. “Why” is often difficult to determine.
The temporomandibular joint operates complex movements that combine a hinge action with sliding motions. A person’s bones that interact in the jaw joint are covered with cartilage and are separated by a tiny shock-absorbing disk. Anything that inhibits its normal smooth movement is a contributing reason.
Muscle guarding can trigger unnecessary pain. While, it is the body’s natural self-defense mechanism, it may force other muscles to assume an otherwise unnatural role. In some scenarios, muscles are stressed by being put in a readiness state. This prevents them from relaxing and prolongs muscle contraction while waiting for a resolution. Sustained or forceful contractions or hyperextension of the masticatory muscles’ triggers muscle guarding. When pain is felt around the injured area, like when the jaw as held opened too long or wide during a dental procedure, the initial muscles are strained and fatigued. This affects the supporting or opposing muscles because they are then forced to compensate for the injured muscle.
Jaw muscle injuries often happen because of unusual constraints and stresses placed on the muscle fibers. When a muscle fails to handle an additional stress load, it causes muscle fibers to tear and become painful.
What to do Initially for a Pulled Jaw Muscle?
It depends on the level of injury and how the person can tolerate pain on a given day. Monitor it for a few hours or a day or so. Since common jaw joint and muscle problems are temporary and resolve themselves, simple treatment may be all that is necessary to relieve discomfort. If minor or until you can see a specialist, check out this list below.
Try the following to relive a pulled jaw muscle at home:
- NSAID’s or acetaminophen to reduce inflammation and jaw pain.
- Cold and heat jaw compresses. We recommend trying a cold compress first on the tender area to reduce the inflammation as soon as possible.
- Jaw rest. If you speak for work, or professional sing, ask for a day or two off.
- A soft diet. For example, avoid eating apples; beef jerky; nuts, and chewing gum.
- Learn how to apply a little pressure to the jaw area as it helps in removing extra fluid and cellular waste, thereby increasing your range of motion.
- A light massage at the base of your jaw may help reduce swelling and inflammation while promoting better blood circulation.
- Monitor and get help if it persists.
Some days are better than others – don’t delay if your pain lingers.
How do Orofacial Pain Specialists Treat Strained Jaw Muscles?
When a jaw muscle is pulled or severely strained, an Orofacial Pain Specialist will establish an individualized treatment plan after diagnosing the jaw muscles and fibers in the damaged tissue. In addition to treating the pain, they will also seek to determine what caused the immediate jaw pain, inflammation, and swelling. They will treat pain resulting from trauma to the jaw.
Treatment will vary depending on it this resulted from a direct blow, previous injuries, bruxism (clenching/grinding), yawning too wide, biting food, lengthy dental appointment strain, dental injections, or other causes. Targeted jaw exercises and physical therapy can have a big impact on restoring damaged jaw muscles.
These specialists understand how the jaw operates. You will gain holistic pain treatment. For example, they know that your jaw is bilateral. Meaning, addressing only one side is not optional. You need this full muscle group working in harmony. If initial jaw self-care does not improve the condition, seeing an Orofacial pain specialist (www.aaop.org) can help.
“The lack of long-term success of managing jaw pain is often due to not taking appropriate steps early in treatment to encourage rapid healing to resolve the pain as well as reducing the lifestyle risk factors such as teeth clenching that can delay recovery. These steps must include adequate treatment of the injury and training of patients to reduce risk factors that delay recovery.” – Dr. James Fricton
How to be Protected From a Pulled Jaw Muscle During Dental Procedures?
- Prepare by knowing what to expect. Hidden surprises can make the procedure longer. Ask all your questions about the procedure before arrival. For example, the duration, how it will be performed, is it painful, what is your follow up care plan, and other details.
- Let your dentist know up front that you’d like breaks if the procedure is lengthy.
- Request a bite block to ease strain on the jaw muscles as they help you keep you jaw open during the procedure.
- If need it, take an anti-inflammatory prior to your dental visit.
- If it becomes too excruciating the day of the procedure to maintain an open mouth, request that they stop and reschedule a time to complete the procedure.
- When the appointment is scheduled, request having fewer fillings completed within a single sitting.
- If you think you have reason to be at risk of jaw joint sprain and muscle strain, let your dentist know ahead of time. This gives them the opportunity to schedule the appointment appropriately with extra time for breaks.
If your jaw muscle is too stressed while in the dental chair, knowing the symptoms and treatments can help tremendously with recovery and healing. This includes both before and after muscle injury.
How Long Until Pulled Jaw Muscle Heals?
Minor pulled muscle occurrences typically last only a short time and go away on their own. Often, it’s three-four weeks from jaw pain onset that patients’ moderate muscle spasms resolve. Once a patient’s jaw opening can measure 40 mm without pain; it may be called “healed”. However, the patient should still restrain from full jaw function, like excessive wide yawning, for an additional two weeks.
Mild jaw pain should be resolved within a few weeks of treatment. If treated within a week of onset, the chances of moderate jaw strain healing completely within four weeks is much greater. Patients who delay early treatment early more often report that their pain worsens years after the initial injury. Studies indicate that resolving jaw injuries quickly can help prevent long-term TMD and promote quicker healing.
It is important to recognize ongoing or severe TMJ pain and get help quickly. Untreated dysfunction in the jaw joint and muscles controlling jaw movement can lead to a chronic pain disorder.
To conclude, a pulled jaw muscle can be very painful. However, you can prevent or reduce the chances of it developing into TMJ or TMD. With proper pain care management from a professional like a Minnesota Head & Neck Pain Clinic specialist, you can rest assured you have the right treatment.
Schedule your next visit today:
Plymouth: (763) 577-2484
St. Paul: (651) 332-7474
Burnsville: (952) 892-6222
St. Cloud: 763-233-7252
About the Author
Jeannie Hill is a digital consultant that specializes in healthcare marketing and online business management.
Edited and approved by:
Cory Herman DDS, Doctor of Dental Surgery, treats adults and children with sleep issues, TMJ, and Orofacial pain disorders within the Minnesota Head and Neck Pain Clinic. He is known for his non-surgical orofacial pain management with an emphasis on collaborative, integrative, mind-body rehabilitative care.
James Fricton DDS, MS, co-founder of the MN Head and Neck Pain Clinic, takes great joy in helping patients recover or from pain disorders or lessen their pain levels.