Skip to main content
Why Does My Jaw Feel Tight?

Why Does My Jaw Feel Tight?

by Mick Murphy, PT, DPT, OCS, CMTPTLeave a Comment

Do you wake up in the morning with a tightness in your jaw? Is it hard to open your mouth to yawn or brush your teeth right away? Or maybe you feel some tightness after eating. If this is familiar to you, you may be one of the 5-12% of the population that suffers from TMD. TMD stands for Temporomandibular Disorder. It is a general term that describes several conditions affecting the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) or associated muscles. These disorders can affect anyone but tend to affect people between 20-40 years old and women more commonly than men. TMD starts as an acute episode, but many people go on to develop chronic symptoms.

Now, let’s get back to that tightness in your jaw. Although there are dozens of potential TMD diagnoses, two are most likely to cause jaw tightness. The most likely culprit is myofascial TMD. In one retrospective study by Kraus in 2014, out of 511 patients referred to physical therapy for TMD, 427 had a myofascial component2. Myofascial TMD means you have tightness or pain in the muscles that move your jaw. The key to treating it and improving your symptoms is determining the specific muscles affected and what is causing the pain or tightness. The second most common cause of jaw tightness is a disc displacement. In the Kraus study, 199 of the 511 patients had this condition2. Your TMJ has a piece of fibrocartilage in the middle that is designed to help your jaw open and close smoothly. In patients with a disc displacement, the disc gets stuck out of place, and can block the jaw from opening normally. There are three types of disc displacements, each present differently and are treated differently.

A physical therapist who specializes in TMD is one of the best resources to help you determine what is causing your tightness and how to get on the road to recovery. Prodoehl, et al researched patient satisfaction with PT for TMD and found that those that started PT earlier in their TMD journey and saw fewer healthcare providers along the way were more satisfied with their outcomes3.

If your jaw feels tight or uncomfortable, don’t put off your pain! Connect with a TMJ/TMD specialist today by clicking the link below.

Find A Specialist Near You

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1) Kraus, Steven L. “Characteristics of 511 Patients with Temporomandibular Disorders Referred for Physical Therapy.” Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology and Oral Radiology, vol. 118, no. 4, Oct. 2014, pp. 432–439.,
2) “Prevalence of TMJD and Its Signs and Symptoms.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018,
3) Prodoehl J, Kraus S, Buros Stein A. Predicting the number of physical therapy visits and patient satisfaction in individuals with temporomandibular disorder: A cohort study. J Oral Rehabil.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Mick Murphy is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist with over 10 years of experience treating orthopaedic, chronic pain, and vestibular conditions. He specializes specifically in craniofacial pain, including headaches and temporomandibular dysfunction. He is certified in dry needling, and Graston trained as well. Mick uses a combination of manual therapy, exercises, and patient education to help his patients decrease their pain, improve their function, and get back to a fulfilling life. He truly believes in using physical therapy to empower his patients to take control of their conditions and give them the tools they need to take control of their health. If you're suffering from pain or movement impairment that keeps you from living your best life, Mick can help you get back on track!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *