Dealing With Jaw, Neck, or Face Tension Lately? Here Are 5 Ways to Get Relief (Without Turning to Advil)
Tension in the neck, jaw, and face is so common that it’s almost impossible to be human and not have it. “Nearly every patient who walks through our door has some level of this type of tension,” says Sean Joyce, PT, DPT, a licensed physical therapist with Hudson Medical + Wellness in New York City. Although the causes are numerous, the pandemic has certainly done its fair share to make things worse for people. Evidence suggests that stress and anxiety from COVID-19 are driving an increase in facial pain. In one study from Tel Aviv University, stress and anxiety caused a significant rise in facial and jaw pain, with women suffering more from symptoms than men, and people aged 35 to 55 suffering the most of anyone.
The Biggest Culprits
Physical and Emotional Stress
Added stress brought on by the pandemic is what David J. Calabro, DC, a certified pediatric and pregnancy chiropractor and functional medicine practitioner in Linwood, N.J., classifies as emotional stress, and while it’s certainly one culprit, physical stress also plays a role. Physical stress includes falls, accidents, and traumas such as falling off a bicycle, jamming your head getting out of a car, or going through a C-section delivery (which puts extra stress on the neck), even if these things happened when you were young. “They can manifest years later as pain or other symptoms,” Calabro says. But here’s the kicker: If you have too much emotional stress, you can suffer an increase of physical stress. “You might hold more tension in your body, stress-eat, which can drive weight gain and add to more physical stress, or use poor posture,” Calabro explains.
Bad Postural Habits
Unfortunately, modern-day living exacerbates poor posture. Maybe you have a work-from-home station that’s not set up properly: the mouse is positioned too far away and your arm is overstretched for too long, which can cause shoulder and neck tension that even extends into the jaw.
Or it’s possible your head is too far forward in front of your shoulders, which puts extra stress on the joints and muscles of the neck, shoulders, and jaw—and can even affect nerves at the base of the skull, Calabro says. In fact, Joyce notes that because so much of what modern living requires is forward-focused—sitting at a desk, looking at your iPhone, even driving—and because most people don’t perform mobility or strengthening exercises to counteract poor posture, you’re bound to get tension at some point.
If you don’t get this tension under control, it can lead to bigger issues. “Basically, it can lead to pain, soreness, stiffness, tenderness, arthritis, loss of mobility, muscle spasms, muscle loss, muscle imbalance, numbness, tingling and burning in the arm and hands, and other neurological pains and symptoms,” Calabro says. It can also exacerbate existing conditions like high blood pressure, headaches, migraines, and sinus problems.
But at the very least, tension, pain, or aching in the neck, face, and jaw is plain old uncomfortable. So how do you keep it in check and find relief when it’s at its worst? While you still may need to seek medical care, especially if the tension is being caused by a structural issue like a joint dysfunction or dental condition, these six strategies can help get things under control.