Locked Jaw: Reasons Why You Could be Next

Your mouth is closed shut! Or even worse–your mouth is stuck wide open! Maybe you’re experiencing excruciating pain on the side of your face and you can’t even eat! If this sounds familiar, you could be suffering from Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJDs).  The jaw joint is one of the most used joints in the body; we use it for talking, facial expression, laughing, yawning, and eating. Undeniably, it plays a huge part in our lives. Without the use of this commonly-overlooked joint, humans may fail to survive due to lack of communication and nutrition. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Disorders has very surprising statistics on TMJDs.

The National Institute of Health says,”TMJDs are the second most commonly occurring musculoskeletal conditions resulting in pain and disability (after chronic low back pain), affecting approximately 5 to 12% of the population, with an annual cost estimated at $4 billion. About half to two-thirds of those with TMJ disorders will seek treatment. Among these, approximately 15% will develop chronic TMJD.”

Another cause could be from a nervous system bacterial disease called tetanus. The National Foundation of Infectious Diseases explains tetanus and how it can result in lockjaw.

Tetanus, commonly called lockjaw, is a bacterial disease that affects the nervous system…The infection causes severe muscle spasms, leading to “locking” of the jaw, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow.”

To understand lockjaw and overall jaw pain, we first must understand how the jaw works. The mandible, commonly known as the jaw, connects to the temporal bone of your skull. This gives the jaw joint the medical name of temporomandibular joint. It is giphyeasily found by placing two fingers in front of the ear while opening your mouth. After you have found the joint, you may be curious as to what exactly is happening under there. While opening the jaw, the attachment point of the mandible, called the condyle, rotates first then begins to travel forward and down a small ramp, called the articular eminence. The condyle is pulled by muscles, called the lateral pterygoids, and this process is called translation. As you close the mouth, the big muscle on the side of the jaw called the masseter, pulls the mandible up with the help of the medial pterygoid–and the TMJ is put back into its original place.

Problems: The most common problem is disc displacement. The TMJ is cushioned by the articular disc (pink section in gif), but loose ligaments, poor posture, yawning, tight giphy-gif-clicklingmuscles, and trauma can cause this disc to shift. If you experience clicking when you open or close the jaw, the shifting of the disc is most likely the problem. You may hear first, clear click when the condyle jumps over the articular disc when opening the jaw (star), followed by a second softer click during the closing of the jaw.

Sometimes the condyle does not click back into place–this is called disc displacement without reduction or dislocation, better known as lockjaw.  Within this category, there are two different types of lockjaw: open and closed.

Open Lock Jaw: Stuck over the articular eminence
Closed Lock Jaw: Stuck behind the articular disc








Other Causes of TMD or jaw pain: Forward-head posture can potentially cforward-tmjause arthritis in the TMJ. Forward-head posture places a stretch on muscles in the front of the neck, causing the jaw to be pulled backwards. When the jaw is pulled back, the condyle is pushed into the back of the socket, causing excessive rubbing, pressure, and irritation, which can lead to arthritis. TMJD can also be caused by an overbite or underbite, teeth grinding, or trauma. TMJD can cause ringing in the ears, headaches, and malnutrition, not to mention chronic pain.


  • Contact a Physical Therapists for an evaluation and treatment to enjoy sleeping, eating, and your social activities again.
  • Place the tongue on the roof of the mouth to take pressure off the jaw.
  • Wear a mouth guard at night. click here
  • Practice proper posture.
  • Stick to soft foods.
  • Avoid extreme jaw motions like yawning.
  • Avoid chewing gum.


Thank You for Your Attention.  

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* To learn how Physical Therapy can serve you, see GetPT1st ,  Greg Todd , Renewal Rehab  Paul Gough Physio RoomsFunctional Patterns  ,  Aaron LeBauer , Kelly Starrett,  The Movement Fix, Anatomy Trains,  The Prehab Guys,  Modern Manual Therapy,   Dr. Ben Fung ,   Andrews University Doctor of Physical Therapy

Edited: Ffrancesca Famorcan

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