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Friday Focus: The Jaw

Oh, the jaw.
Many of us are well aware of the tension we are carrying in the jaw joint and the surrounding musculatures.  This tension is not benign.  In fact, even people who have no idea they are carrying jaw tension are familiar with some of the side effects.

  1. Headache
  2. Clicking and/or popping
  3. Pain in the jaw itself
  4. Hip pain
  5. Jaw locking or other involuntary jaw movements

The causes of jaw tension can be psychological, physical or some combination of both.  Some of the most prevalent are:

  1. TMJD (Temporomandibular joint disorders)
  2. Physical damage to the joint
  3. Teeth grinding
  4. Jaw clenching
  5. Emotional references such as from stress or anxiety
  6. Excessive chewing
  7. Over-pressurized air use while speaking or singing
  8. Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, and Tetanus
  9. Tension referring through Fascia from the rest of the body

In addition, some of the ways in which we use our voices can contribute to tension in the jaw and surrounding musculatures.
Why, besides the obvious discomfort, does this matter?
Humans share anatomy for mastication (chewing), swallowing, and breathing so at the most basic level, it is an issue of surviving and thriving when we are dealing with this musculature and skeletal framework.
As voice users, tension in the jaw becomes the difference between singing freely or not, the difference between projecting your speech to the back of a conference room or not.  It is simply not something you can ignore.  Neither is jaw pain always about the jaw alone.
If as a voice user you are encountering jaw tension, then you should interrogate the usual suspects:

  1.  Your physical alignment.  Any tension in the body, particularly through the hips and psoas, loves to refer up into the jaw.  The interconnected network of tissues (fascia) in the body means that locked systems in one part of the body usually travel to another.
  2. The tongue.   We will be talking about the tongue in detail next week but suffice it to say that of the muscles that can reactively derail the jaw, none is more gifted at it than the tongue.
  3. Your breath. Tensions anywhere in the respiratory process and especially inbalances in coordination between breath intake and supported use can lead to pretty severe tension in the jaw.  Be aware of whether you are over-blowing air as you use your voice.
  4. Stress.  The effects of stress on the jaw are well-documented and sometimes ignored by sufferers.  If you are going through periods of stress and/or anxiety, you should check in on the jaw.
  5. Medical/Physical causes. There are medical conditions that can cause or contribute to jaw tension, some of them life-threatening so don’t ignore chronic jaw pain especially in conjunction with other physical symptoms.

What to do if you are suffering from jaw tension?
If you are voice user and are having issues the first thing to do is rate the severity of the problem and whether you have other symptoms.  If the pain is acute and/or you have other symptoms please see your doctor.
If you not actually in distress, you should start with the suspects above.  Work on your alignment by doing expansive stretches.  There are some good ones in the previous post Alignment in Pursuit of Sound but feel free to be curious about your own body and how it likes to move.
Stretch your tongue.  I’ll have more exercises to share for this next week but for now, maybe try this GROW Voice Quick Flick – Sticky Peanut Butter.
Do some breathing exercises focusing on the easy inspiration and expression of air. Are you releasing your musculature fully before you engage the muscles of breathing for a new breath?
While you are speaking or singing, are you pushing your air outward or trying to produce volume without thinking of abdominal support in the body?  If so, you might be over-pressurizing the air and should work with someone to bring that back into balance.
Manage your stress.  This will save more than your jaw, just do it.
Don’t ignore chronic pain in the body.  Pain is your body’s way of asking for help.  So if nothing else is working see a doctor whether you think you need to or not.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and welcome your questions and/or comments.
Gina Razón is the principal voice specialist at GROW Voice LLC, a full-service voice and speech studio in Boston.  She has over 16 years of experience both as a teacher of voice and speech, and a voraciously curious voice user.  Gina has worked professionally as a classical singer for over a decade and more recently as professional public speaker.  For more information on the studio or to book Gina visit

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