Jaw Pain and Other Problems

Although some people think that osteopaths just treat backs, there are actually few joints that we don’t work on. The jaw is one of those areas that might seem particularly out of our remit. In fact, if your jaw is causing you problems, your osteopath is certainly qualified to assess it.

Clicking Jaw

Within the jaw joint, there is a disc of cartilage that allows for smooth movement. Sometimes, the disc is irritated, pulled out of alignment, or becomes arthritic. One common cause, that sometimes responds within one treatment, is pulling from a cheek muscle. The image below shows how muscles just in front of the joint attach onto the disc. They are some of the muscles that might feel sore if you’ve been laughing or smiling a lot. Grinding your teeth or clenching can also cause them to tighten up.

Jaw anatomy

When the disc is pulled like this, it can be prone to folding. This can be the cause of any clicking or clunking you hear or feel. Some people feel it only when they open their mouths very wide, or when they bite down hard. For other people there is a click on every open or close. Fortunately, if the problem lies solely with the muscles, the solution can be quite quick. The pterygoid muscles can be very responsive to indirect and direct techniques. Resisted exercises can reduce clicking within minutes, and direct massage can help too.

The muscles get tight for a reason, and often that reason takes a while to resolve. Your osteopath may provide you with a modified version of what worked in clinic as an exercise. If you can keep your symptoms at bay between treatments, your outlook is generally pretty good.

As there is an association with teeth grinding, there may be benefit in finding methods to manage stress or anxiety. Your osteopath may be able to help with basic breathing exercises or recommending a suitable therapist to help.

Posture and Jaw Symptoms

Jaw symptoms rarely happen in isolation. Subtle changes in neck posture can have significant effects on the muscles that attach around the chin. It’s not uncommon for us to start to shift our heads forward without realising. This change doesn’t really affect the bigger muscles of the neck as long as the head is still well balanced and you’re not looking down. But it does pull on the muscles at the front. The image below shows how the muscles want to respond to that.

Unfortunately for those muscles, we do not naturally allow our mouths to hang open. To close the mouth, we rely on those same muscles (among others) mentioned above. Of course, if these are tight enough for long enough, they can pull on the disc and cause the clicking, shifting, or locking symptoms.

Your Osteopath’s Role

We look at the areas beyond the symptoms to work out the cause of your pain or clicking. Taking everything into account, we can get to the root of the problem. Sometimes we may want to work alongside other professionals, such as your dentist if it might help to get a bite guard to address tooth grinding. There may also be stress factors that would benefit from management. In any case, every appointment is tailored specifically to you- not your diagnosis.

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