by Alison McGinnis, DPT, PT, FAFS
Do you find yourself breathing differently or holding your jaw funny while wearing a mask? Have you noticed an increase in headaches or jaw pain? If you’re still uncomfortable wearing a mask, try a few of these suggestions
How are you breathing? Many people find themselves as “mouth breathers” when wearing a mask, where they take shallow breaths in and out through their mouth instead of their nose. This is a psychological change. There is no reason you cannot breathe through your nose with a mask on, except your brain thinks it can’t do it. Challenge yourself to slow down your breathing, relax, and breathe in and out through your nose and repeat. Rapid, shallow breathing activates the fight or flight system of the body creating stress, and engages accessory breathing muscles in the neck instead of utilizing the diaphragm to move air. This is step 1 to eliminate jaw pain as holding your mouth open increases the tension in your jaw.
Make sure you’re not clenching your jaw. It should be relaxed, with teeth not touching, and tongue resting on the roof of your mouth. if you’re still having pain check the tightness of the mask’s straps. You want the mask to fit snugly over the bridge of your nose and across your cheeks to keep air from escaping, but not too tight that it pulls the back of your ears forward. Loosen the straps a little if you have adjustable ones, or shift the strap behind your ears upward so there’s more tension along the bottom of the strap instead of the top.
Tendency to skip water. This leads to dehydration, fatigue, and headaches. Set reminders for yourself or keep a clear water bottle nearby at all times to make sure you’re drinking throughout the day.
If you do have jaw or facial pain after wearing a mask, performing a little self massage can help alleviate it. Using one or two fingers, gently press and make small circular motions along the jaw from the ear to the teeth, underneath the jaw and behind the bottom of the ears, and along the temples. You can also press on the infraorbital foramen which can help relieve sinus pressure and pain coming from the trigeminal nerve.