Ever felt that your jaw is locked and restricted from opening? Well, lockjaw quite literally means just that. This happens when you experience a muscle spasm of the jaw, because of which movement of your lower jaw becomes painful.
In such cases, you would not just have difficulty in brushing and eating, but also have limited ability to open your mouth, as you will feel extreme discomfort when you try. Few of the other main causes for this are injuries in your jaw bone, a medical condition or an infection you might have developed. There are a variety of other causes for this. Let us summarise it for you.
Symptoms of Lockjaw (also known as Trismus)
- Cannot fully open mouth without experiencing pain and discomfort.
- Difficulty in eating, biting and chewing.
About your Jaw
When we go crazy at a Zumba class or simply take that extra mile while cycling, we tend to experience a muscle cramp or spasm in our legs. This happens as we’ve suddenly exerted our bodies more than we should have. Such spasms are uncomfortable and can be painful, till the muscles in your leg relax. We either massage, do a few stretches or hydrate during exercises to avoid spasms.
Similarly, like the rest of our body, our jaw is made up of joints, muscles and bones. We have muscles in our Mandible (which Lower Jaw) that contribute to the movement of our jaw so we can talk, bite and chew. Infections, exertion or injuries of the muscles in our mandible causes lockjaw.
Normally, most people can open their mouth up to 1.4-2.2 inches. This is about the width of 3 fingers. You can try this out yourself. There are four muscles that ensure you can open your mouth this wide. They are the masseter, the temporalis, the medial pterygoid and the lateral pterygoid. All these four muscles in our lower jaw work together, to ensure the lower jaw can move up and down, as well as from side to side. If these muscles experience a spasm, you’d probably immediately be suffering from a lockjaw.
Another interesting point is, our facial features actually get their shape and form from the functions of this masseter muscle. The masseter muscle starts from the cheekbone to the lower jaw, and brings the teeth back together to grind on food. The inactivity of this jawbone muscles can lead to weakness. Hence, maintaining regular exercise of your jaw muscles after consultation is recommended.
CAUSES for your Jaw to get locked
Lockjaw occurs when there is some damage to your jaw and there can be multiple reasons. Here are a few.
Tetanus Infection – This is a bacterial infection that causes painful muscle spasms, especially in the jaw and neck. You could come in contact with this bacteria from any piece of metal that is extremely rusty. This bacteria particularly affects our nervous system. That’s how it takes control of our muscles, by tightening them to an extent that the person would be unable to open their mouth, as the jaw would in fact be locked. If you’ve contracted this infection, it’s absolutely necessary to seek medical attention immediately. Today, there are tetanus vaccines, because of which these cases are very low. But we recommend rushing immediately for medical help, if you’ve scratched yourself on a rusty metal or iron.
Fracture to your jawbone – A severe or minor injury of your jawbone requires a good amount of time to heal. In such cases, the movement of your jaw needs to be shut completely, so that the bone can heal with time.
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD) – The Temporomandibular joints are the ones that make it possible to move our jawbone. This joint connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull. When we start to experience pain in these joints, the condition is called TMJD. This is pretty long term, so it’s referred to as TMJD. Locking of this joint makes it hard to open or close the mouth. These joints are on both sides of our faces in front of our ears.
Possible reasons for which TMJD could happen is if you’re chewing wrongly, biting fingernails, habitual grinding of teeth or clenching jaw. These all are the wrong use of the temporomandibular joint, which aggravates it towards acting dysfunctional. Hence, TMJD is also one of the results of lockjaw.
Jaw nerve damage, poor oral hygiene, trauma to the jaw or the area aruond or even the removal of wisdom tooth are some of the other common causes of Lockjaw
How to fix Lockjaw
- Maintain a soft diet to reduce over activity of your jaw if it’s damaged.
- Physical therapy and a range of healthy exercises will help improve your posture.
- Medications such as muscle relaxants after consultation with your doctor.
- Practicing gentle jaw stretching and relaxing exercises that may help increase jaw movement.
Practice the exercises that are recommended by your doctor As we mentioned earlier, each Lockjaw case is different and could potentially have a different cause, getting to the bottom of the pain in your jaw is most important for your comfort.
A locked jaw can improve and in time, return to normalcy and the way it functioned, provided you take good care after speaking to a healthcare professional. The earlier you start working on the tightness you’re feeling when you open your mouth, the better it would be to bring it back to normal. A doctor will be able to evaluate and get to the root cause of your discomfort, so you can enjoy simple pleasures like yawning.