Is it stress?

Stress can be seen and felt in many different ways throughout your body. Some people may have headaches, stomach aches, trouble sleeping, or jaw/muscle tension. Stress is a normal human reaction to things happening around you. How your body deals with it will determine your body’s response. Stress and jaw pain can go hand in hand. 

 What is TMJ Disorder?

TMJ is the abbreviation for temporomandibular joint, which are joints that allow your jaw to move. You have two of them, one on each side of your head and you can feel them by placing a finger near the front of your ear and opening your mouth. A disorder of this joint is a general term for any factor that disrupts its normal function. This usually means pain, loss of mobility, and excessive mobility, to name some. This could also include clicking or popping of the joint, which may or may not affect function. Most of the disorders we see in the clinic are loss of motion and/or pain with opening or chewing.

How Can Stress Play a Role in TMJ Disorders?

Stress often causes us to clench our teeth and hold our facial muscles in a constant state of contraction. When our brains and emotions aren’t relaxed, our muscles usually aren’t relaxed either. This constant use of our muscles puts stress through our jaw joints and induces constant fatigue through facial muscles that are constantly “on”. Unlike most other muscles in the body that are forced to relax when we sleep, this is not the case with our clenching muscles, and many people will often grind or clench their teeth at night in their sleep. These behaviors often lead to headaches, pain through the face (eyes, forehead, cheeks), and specifically pain in the jaw upon waking in the morning.

What Can Be Done For This?

The good news is that this can often be greatly helped with the proper treatment. Typically, your dentist and a properly trained physical therapist can work together to get your symptoms under control and restore your function. You may benefit from a night guard that mitigates the effects of clenching. A physical therapist will be able to evaluate your deficits and start a treatment plan that consists of restoring movement and decreasing pain. In addition, they can give you tools to help manage your symptoms better on your own.

Self Treatment

Here are a few easy self-treatment tools that will benefit almost anyone:
1. If you do computer work, take timed breaks every 30-45 minutes and consciously relax the muscles around your jaw and face. There is a good chance you are slightly squinting, clenching, or furrowing your brow as you stare at your screen.
2. Self-massage the muscles of your cheeks and your temples. These are your “clench” muscles and can be felt at your cheeks and up on the side of your head just back from the eyes when you bite down. Spend 1-2 minutes massaging these areas with circular motions whenever you feel sore in those areas.

Working with the right professionals is the first step in helping to reduce TMJ pain dysfunction. It is also important that you can identify your stressors and work to reduce them. If clenching or grinding is a problem, working with your dentist and TMD-trained PT can help get you on the right path. Schedule your appointment today to begin your path to less pain.


Penelope works with a wide array of patient populations. Her extensive background allows her to successfully improve the quality of life for patients suffering from chronic pain conditions. She also has strong experience in neurological rehab, sports medicine, orthopedic care, and women's health.