Do you deal with neck and jaw pain?
It’s estimated that upwards of 1 in 3 people live with neck pain 2, and more than 10 million Americans deal with jaw joint (TMJ) related issues.4 If you struggle with neck and jaw pain, you are certainly not alone. Living with pain can greatly affect your quality of life. Luckily, there are ways to treat the underlying cause of pain and improve your quality of life.
Neck and jaw pain can come with a long list of symptoms. Common symptoms can be pain and discomfort when holding your head in one position for prolonged periods, decreased range of motion, stiffness, and general soreness. It’s also important to look out for the lesser-known signs and symptoms of neck and jaw issues such as dizziness, headaches and migraines, loss of grip strength, and vertigo. More symptoms can consist of pain that radiates to other parts of the body, ringing in the ears, earaches, popping or clicking in the jaw, and facial pain. All these signs and symptoms can indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed to relieve pain and discomfort.
Causes of neck and jaw pain
You know you’ve been dealing with neck and/or jaw pain and may have a few or many of the symptoms stated above. But how did you get into this position of pain and discomfort in the first place? There are several different causes of neck and jaw pain from postural misalignments to stress to even dental issues. Read on to learn more about the causes of neck and jaw pain.
Lifestyle habits such as working at a desk, looking down at your phone, and lack of physical movement can cause misalignments within your body and lead to poor posture. When you have poor posture, the body adapts by lengthening/shortening some muscles, which causes an abnormal weakening or stress. When structures within your body are forced to perform in a way they were not designed to, this can lead to pain and discomfort.
Within your face structure, you have what is called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This joint attaches your jawbone to your skull and is a sliding hinge that allows you to move your jaw to perform daily tasks such as talking, eating, yawning, and any other movements or actions that require the mouth. Disorders within the TMJ can arise when the joint itself or surrounding muscles are working improperly. Injuries such as whiplash or a sudden blow to the head can cause TMJ disorders, and result in new daily habits such as teeth grinding and tightening of facial muscles due to stress.
Chronic stress greatly impacts your body and wellbeing. When you deal with elevated levels of stress for prolonged periods, this causes your body to get stuck in your sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for fight or flight. When your body is stuck in fight or flight mode, this can lead to shallow breathing and chronic upper body tension. Shallow breathing causes muscles in your neck and chest to overwork, and overused muscles can lead to pain and discomfort.
Human bone structures are designed to support breathing in and out through the nose. Humans default to breathing in and out of our noses upon birth 3, but many people have developed a habit of breathing in and out through their mouths. When you stray from breathing how your anatomy was designed to, this can create misalignment within the structure of your face and neck. Chronic mouth breathing has been shown to change the structure of the face, cause airway obstruction, and create misalignment within the jaw and surrounding areas. 1
The causes of jaw and neck pain in this blog article are a non-exhaustive list. There can be several other causes of jaw and neck pain, such as sinus infections, dental issues, blood flow restrictions, and nerve issues. If you suspect some of these to be the cause of your neck and jaw issues, reach out to a primary care practitioner through Teladoc to be guided towards what your next steps should be.
How to fix neck and jaw pain
When you’re dealing with misalignments due to lifestyle habits, injuries, or other causes, it’s important to work towards correcting these misalignments. Since factors such as poor posture can cause lengthening and shortening of muscles, you want to work towards strengthening the weakened muscles that are over-lengthened and stretching the tightened muscles that are shortened. This can be done through a personalized physical therapy program that targets your specific needs. This stretch is a great way to relieve neck pain and upper body tension. Consistently working with a health coach and physical therapist can help strengthen your body, build resilience, and relieve pain and tension to increase your quality of life.
There are several practices that can help you move your body into a relaxed state that allows you to let go of tension. Practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, breathwork, and mindfulness helps your body move from a sympathetic fight or flight state into a parasympathetic rest and digest state.
A great stress reduction practice to try is the equal part breath. Equal part breathing helps regulate the body’s stress response. This means it helps decrease stress, lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure. Equal part breathing matches the length of inhales and exhales, for around 4-8 seconds each.
To practice equal part breath follow the instructions below:
Step 1. Find a comfortable position to settle into. If sitting does not feel comfortable, feel free to lie down.
Step 2. Slowly close your eyes and bring your focus to your natural breath without changing anything. Breathe in and out for 4 breaths.
Step 3. Now, slowly begin counting your inhales and exhales. Inhaling for a count of 6, and exhaling for a count of 6. Breathe in through your nose for 1,2,3,4,5,6, then slowly exhale through your nose 6,5,4,3,2,1.
Step 4. As you continue this breathing pattern notice how your belly rises as you breathe in, and lowers as you breathe out.
Step 5. Matching inhales and exhales, continue this pattern for 5 full rounds of breath.
Step 6. Wiggle your fingers and toes and allow your breath to come back to its normal pace. Notice how you feel physically. Are you more relaxed? Notice how you feel mentally. Are your thoughts calmer? Are you able to focus? Notice how you feel emotionally. Are you in a more serene and even space?
As with most things in life, breathing habits can be changed through practice. If you notice you primarily breathe in and out through your mouth, work on consistently bringing your awareness to your body and breath and shift your breathing pattern by inhaling and exhaling through the nose. To achieve proper nasal breathing, your lips should be closed together with a slight gap between your upper and lower teeth. Your tongue should gently press against the roof of your mouth about half an inch away from your teeth. It’s okay if this feels unnatural at first, with consistent practice it should become easier and become your default breathing pattern. Practicing yoga is also a great way to get into the habit of nasal breathing since nasal breathing is the foundation of most yoga practices.
Improve your pain today
Pain and discomfort can negatively impact your quality of life. Targeting the root cause of your issues can relieve pain and help you get back to going through life as your best self. If you would like more information on how Orbit can help you decrease pain, manage stress, and improve your overall wellbeing, contact us today.
- Basheer B, Hegde KS, Bhat SS, Umar D, Baroudi K. Influence of mouth breathing on the dentofacial growth of children: a cephalometric study. J Int Oral Health. 2014;6(6):50-55.
- InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Neck pain: Overview. 2010 Aug 24 [Updated 2019 Feb 14]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK338120/
- Lungs Band AT. Should I breathe through my mouth or through my nose? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/breathe-mouth-nose/#:~:text=Humans%20are%20naturally%20designed%20to,in%20air%20through%20your%20mouth. Published December 28, 2021. Accessed April 4, 2022.
- Neck pain and jaw pain: What is the connection? Advanced Bone & Joint. https://www.advancedboneandjoint.com/neck-pain-and-jaw-pain-what-is-the-connection/. Published July 11, 2019. Accessed April 4, 2022.