Most people think of their jaw as a relatively benign, unimportant joint. That could not be further from the truth! The jaw itself is a relatively small joint, but it has five powerful muscles attached to it. Including all of the muscles, the jaw takes up almost half of the head's surface anatomy.
When there’s a pathology with the jaw, it doesn’t just manifest in the jaw. Certainly, you’ll get a decreased range of motion in the jaw (making it difficult to eat a large hamburger), but you might also develop headaches, neck pain, and secondary migraines.
There are very few sports that actively require the use of the jaw (Boccia is the only one that springs to mind), but bruxism – tight/saw jaw muscles are very common in athletes across all sports. Why?
It’s a natural instinct to clench your jaw when you’re scared or excited, but if you’re doing it constantly in games and training sessions, then the big jaw muscles will tighten and cause some serious pain down the line.
The immediate, and probably most obvious step to take if you’re noticing a stiff/sore jaw is to stretch. Gently pulling the lower jaw bone downwards, left, and right is the simplest way of stretching the jaw. Stretch before and after exercise (when you’re most likely to clench), and twice per day – morning and night.
If your jaw muscles don’t return to normal after 2 weeks of vigilant stretching, then you might need clinical intervention. Adjusting the jaw, internal massage, and needling are all very useful for releasing jaw muscles*.
If getting needled in the face seems unappealing, though, then you will want to train yourself out of clenching. Find something else to do with your mouth when you’re in an exciting moment of play. Michael Jordan used to stick his tongue out. Cathy Freeman would open her mouth. George Gregan would bite his lower lip and inflate his cheeks. Whatever you choose to do might make you look silly, but if it can prevent bruxism, then it will be worth it.
For more information on bruxism, email me directly via the contact page. For specific information on an injury you have, or for treatment, contact one of my clinics directly. You can find that information here.
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Dr Mitch Clark