Lockjaw (trismus) is the inability to open the mouth or jaw fully. You can randomly get lockjaw if you have temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder or tetanus.
What causes lockjaw?
Lockjaw can be caused by:
- Tetanus (infection of the jawbone)
- Congenital disorders
- Dental problems
- Nerve diseases and inflammatory conditions
- Jaw surgery
- Treatment for head and neck cancer
What is TMJ?
TMJ affects the jaw joint and muscles that surround it due to inflammation, causing pain or locking of the temporomandibular joints located between the lower jaw and temporal bone.
TMJ can also cause aching or throbbing pain as well as soreness in the ear, jaw, or face. Chewing food can worsen the pain, and you may experience a clicking sound or grinding sensation.
TMJ pain usually resolves on its own or with conservative medical treatment.
What is tetanus?
Lockjaw and tetanus used to be used interchangeably because tetanus can cause rigidity of the jaw muscles. Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani that can be prevented with the tetanus vaccine. The incubation period is typically 3-21 days, although most cases occur within 14 days.
Tetanus is caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani and results in the jaw being locked or frozen in a position, making it hard for the person to move or even open their mouth. This occurs when the bacterial infection interferes with the nerves or joints that are responsible for controlling the jaw.
The infection occurs through cuts or wounds contaminated with tetanus bacteria, such as rusted metal. In severe cases, lockjaw can even cause death by suffocation or choking. Other ways through which tetanus bacteria can get into the body include:
- Superficial wounds
- Surgical procedures
- Animal bites
- Dental infections
- Fracture in which the bone is exposed
- Chronic sores and infections
- Intravenous drugs given under non-sterile conditions
- Intramuscular injections (shots given in a muscle) given under non-sterile conditions
- Generalized tetanus: Starts at the jaw and progresses down the body.
- Localized tetanus: Causes muscle spasms close to the site of an injury and can eventually lead to generalized tetanus.
- Cephalic tetanus: Results from a head wound and causes weakened face muscles and jaw spasms.
Signs and symptoms of lockjaw caused by tetanus include:
- Painful muscle spasms and stiff muscles in the jaw
- Muscle tension around the mouth, sometimes producing a persistent grin
- Painful spasms
- Difficulty swallowing
- Rigid neck muscles
Progression of the infection results in chronic seizure-like spasms that last for a long time. As the disease advances, symptoms may include:
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Excessive sweating
How is lockjaw diagnosed?
There are no particular tests to diagnose lockjaw. However, your doctor may perform imaging tests or X-rays to determine the underlying cause.
These tests may reveal TMJ issues, fractures, tumors, or other conditions that may be causing lockjaw.
How is lockjaw treated?
Treating the underlying condition should resolve lockjaw. Symptoms may be helped with:
- Medications: Medications such as muscle relaxers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can relax the jaw muscles and relieve pain. Depending on the severity of symptoms, medications that require infusion directly into the jaw may be prescribed.
- Therapy: Physical therapy with electrical stimulation, deep warming, massage, and stretching may help relax the jaw muscle. Some people may also benefit from the help of a speech therapist or swallowing specialist.
- Dietary changes: Dietary changes such as eating soft foods may help reduce discomfort or difficulty chewing and swallowing.
- Lifestyle changes:
- Maintain good posture
- Stretch your neck, shoulders, and jaw muscles regularly
- Avoid clenching or grinding
- Massage your face muscles especially the muscles under your cheekbone
- Practice good oral hygiene
Chronic lockjaw can cause complications if left untreated. Being unable to open your mouth properly can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, dental problems, and even choking in severe cases. It is therefore important to seek care as soon as possible.
- Attachment Theory: What It Is, Stages & the Different Attachment Styles
- Gentle Parenting: What It Is, Techniques & Discipline
- U.S. Nursing Homes Fail to Report Many Serious Falls, Bedsores: Study
- The Younger You Get Diabetes, the Higher Your Risk for Dementia Later
- FDA Grants Full Approval to Paxlovid to Treat COVID-19
- More Health News »
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Can You Randomly Get Lockjaw Related Articles
Adult Vaccines: Protect Yourself Against Tetanus and MoreSometimes childhood diseases cause big problems for grownups. WebMD explains which vaccines can help keep adults healthy.
Best TMJ Exercises for Pain ReliefThe temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the jawbone and skull. It is situated just in front of the ears. TMJ moves while talking, chewing, and swallowing; hence, TMJ is essential for these functions to take place normally.
Common Medical Abbreviations & Terms
Doctors, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals use abbreviations, acronyms, and other terminology for instructions and information in regard to a patient's health condition, prescription drugs they are to take, or medical procedures that have been ordered. There is no approved this list of common medical abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology used by doctors and other health- care professionals. You can use this list of medical abbreviations and acronyms written by our doctors the next time you can't understand what is on your prescription package, blood test results, or medical procedure orders. Examples include:
- ANED: Alive no evidence of disease. The patient arrived in the ER alive with no evidence of disease.
- ARF: Acute renal (kidney) failure
- cap: Capsule.
- CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure. A treatment for sleep apnea.
- DJD: Degenerative joint disease. Another term for osteoarthritis.
- DM: Diabetes mellitus. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- HA: Headache
- IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease. A name for two disorders of the gastrointestinal (BI) tract, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- JT: Joint
- N/V: Nausea or vomiting.
- p.o.: By mouth. From the Latin terminology per os.
- q.i.d.: Four times daily. As in taking a medicine four times daily.
- RA: Rheumatoid arthritis
- SOB: Shortness of breath.
- T: Temperature. Temperature is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
Dental Problems: Tooth Decay, TMJ, Mouth Pain Causes & TreatmentsDo you have a toothache? What is oral cancer? Symptoms like mouth pain and sensitive teeth can indicate dental problems. Learn the causes of painful problems in your mouth like tooth decay, TMJ, and dry mouth. See how bad breath starts, and how to fight bad breath with dental treatments that work.
Do You Need a Tetanus Shot?A bacteria called Clostridium tetani causes tetanus (lockjaw). Tetanus causes symptoms and signs that include severe muscle spasms and an inability to open the mouth. The tetanus vaccine is a toxoid that is 100% effective against tetanus. The DTaP vaccine is part of a child's routine immunization schedule. Doctors recommend the Tdap for children at their 11-year checkup. People should get a tetanus booster vaccination every 10 years.
Facial Health: What Your Skin and Face Symptoms Can Reveal About YouWhat medical problems appear on your face? Look into the mirror and find out. Jaundice, glaucoma, skin cancer, and cracked lips are just some of the many health conditions with symptoms that show on your face. Learn to spot common face conditions and safeguard your family’s health.
How Do You Fix Lockjaw?The treatment of lockjaw depends on several factors, such as the severity of the condition, how long the condition has persisted, and the underlying cause.
How to Cure Lockjaw (Tetanus)Lockjaw, also known as trismus, is a condition in which a person is unable to open their jaws fully. Spasm in jaw muscles make the jaws rigid and prevent movement of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the hinge-like joint in the jaw that enables jaw movement.
methocarbamolMethocarbamol is a medication used to relieve muscle spasms, and relax neck and jaw muscle contraction (lockjaw) caused by tetanus, a serious bacterial infection. Common side effects of methocarbamol include slow heart rate (bradycardia), low blood pressure (hypotension), inflammation with blood clots in the vein (thrombophlebitis), fainting (syncope), flushing, confusion, memory loss (amnesia), sleeplessness (insomnia), dizziness/lightheadedness, vertigo, drowsiness, sedation, mild impairment of muscular coordination, seizures (including grand mal), double vision (diplopia), and others.
Mouth Problems: TMJ, Canker Sores, Painful Gums and MoreSores, painful gums, bad breath -- what's going on in your mouth? Find out with our slideshow of the most common mouth problems. Learn about canker sores, cold sores, oral thrush, TMJ, and oral cancer. See what treatments for bad breath and other dental problems are available from your dentist.
What Are the Warning Signs of Tetanus?Tetanus is a severe disease that affects many people. Learn the warning signs and diagnosis process for tetanus disease.
What Causes Lockjaw?Several nerves and muscles control jaw movement. Due to their anatomical arrangement, lockjaw is typically characterized by a partially open jaw position.