A father adjusts his child's mask

“Can wearing masks on a regular basis contribute to or exacerbate jaw pain? It’s a reasonable conclusion to make if you ask us.


It isn’t only stress levels that have increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although only minimal research has been done to investigate the connection between mask-wearing and jaw pain, we have been seeing an increase in jaw pain in-clinic over the course of the pandemic. And we aren’t the only health professionals to see an increase in complaints of jaw pain since 2019.

Dentists, osteopaths and RMTs alike have been writing about the increased frequency of jaw pain complaints in-office over the past few months – and for good reason!

Given the increase in jaw pain and increase in masking, it’s worth asking: can wearing masks on a regular basis contribute to or exacerbate jaw pain? It’s a reasonable conclusion to make if you ask us.

When the masks we wear don’t fit our faces well, they tend to slip up or down while we talk. To keep the mask from shifting, we often alter the way we move the jaw while speaking to adjust the position of the mask. This could easily cause tension and discomfort in the muscles that move the jaw.

One recent study conducted by students at the University of L’Aquila, Italy explained that while “temporomandibular disorders are multifactorial conditions that are caused by both physical and psychological factors,” “it has been well established that stress triggers or worsens TMDs.” The paper concluded that “stress during the pandemic lockdown influenced the onset of temporomandibular [jaw] joint disorders and facial pain, albeit with individual responses.” [1]

Whether mask-wearing directly impacts jaw pain or not, stress certainly does. Stress, anxiety and genetic predisposition play a leading role in increased muscle tension throughout the body [2]  – and facial muscles are no exception to this rule. 

Facial muscles, like any other muscle in the body, can become sore and fatigued when we begin to use them more than usual – and adjusting masks that fit a bit too snug or too loosely leaves many of us using those facial muscles more now than we did pre-pandemic.

Between a potential increase in use of the muscles that make up the jaw and the buildup of stress that many of us have experienced since the beginning of the pandemic, it comes as no surprise that we’re seeing an increase in clients experiencing jaw pain here in-clinic.

So what can we do to tackle these symptoms?

While there are many potential causes of TMJ disorders and jaw pain in general, there are a few strategies to decrease the symptoms mentioned earlier in this post.

First, taking part in deep breathing exercises is a proven way to manage stress in the moment. Box breathing is one of our favourite techniques to breathe through stressful moments in our day-to-day lives.

Secondly, manual therapy is a proven, safe and effective way to treat many TMJ disorders, a common cause of jaw pain [3]. If jaw pain is bringing you down, your local physiotherapist is here to help!