“I have lockjaw” has become the common phrase that is uttered after the first time a person with TMJ (TemporoMandibular Joint Disorder) opens their jaw and it ‘locks’ into some open position.
This is both painful and frightening, and often accompanied by sounds that a person should just never ever hear coming from their jaw structure.
Lockjaw from TMJ is a function of the muscles of the jaw being so tight that they either pull the joint out of alignment, or they are so tight that as you open your mouth, they seize/spasm and lock the jaw in place for some length of time.
One a TMJ dynamic progresses to the point where your jaw starts locking, you can expect to have more and more TMJ jaw pain. As with all forms of Tendonitis, the muscular structure of the jaw gets more and more tightened, and then this becomes ‘normal’. But it’s still too tight.
As the jaw opens, muscles have to lengthen to let it open. If they are too tight, they won’t let this motion happen very easily. If muscles of the jaw are more or less tight than those on the opposite side, the jaw will open at an angle, essentially getting pulled out of alignment. This can make the jaw bones get pulled out of joint.
If a person opens their mouth and their jaw bone slips out of joint, it can get locked because it is no longer in it’s groove. When this happens, the nervous system freaks out, and tries to protect you by tightening the muscles even more to ‘guard’ against possible injury. Ironically, this just clamps the bones down tighter into the now out-of-joint joint. The muscles have to relax some, or the bones have to snap back into their groove before the jaw will close.
The jaw can also lock in a closed position.
This can happen for two reasons, and usually a combination of both.
1. Muscles can be so tight, clenching and squeezing the jaw so hard, that the nervous system panics and sends the muscles into a severe spasm, which locks the muscles into a contracted state.
2. The nervous system can be getting signals from an irritated jaw joint, such that it is afraid that if the jaw opens just one more time that injury will happen. If the nervous system decides that injury is going to happen, it will do whatever it can to prevent such an injury. It does this by sending your jaw musculature into an intense spasm, locking the muscles into a contracted state. TMJ jaw pain creates a feedback loop that creates more tightness, and more TMJ jaw pain.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of TMJ, call today for a complimentary consultation at 855.TMJ.DOCS and let the doctors at the Headache & TMJ Center of New Jersey help you get out of pain!