Can a Face Mask Give You a Headache?

Face masks are an important way to help stop the spread of COVID-19. But can wearing a mask cause pain?

face mask

In the age of COVID-19, many people are wearing face masks — from homemade coverings to surgical masks. Some people tolerate masks well or don’t wear them for long enough to cause discomfort. Others, particularly people who have to wear masks all day, may find themselves experiencing headaches or jaw pain. Are face masks causing these headaches? And if so, what can be done about it?

TMJ pain and headaches

Wearing a tight face mask for a long period of time can cause pain in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects your lower jaw to the rest of your skull. The muscles and tissues that allow your jaw to move can become irritated or tense when a mask pulls behind your ears. The nerves that affect your jaw can also send pain signals that can be felt as a headache.

How can I prevent jaw pain and headaches caused by wearing a face mask?

There are several ways you can stop a mask from causing pain:

  • Try to avoid masks that are tight behind your ears. Tighter masks pull on your ears, which can irritate the nearby nerves. Use looser masks when you can, and save the tighter, more restrictive masks (like N95 respirators) for when you are in a high-risk situation.
  • Pay attention to your teeth and jaw position. Worry and stress — things most of us are feeling right now — can cause you to clench your teeth or jaw muscles. Your teeth should not be touching when you are at rest, and your jaw should be relaxed.
  • Try to maintain good general posture. TMJ pain can be caused by positioning your head in an unnatural or unusual position, which increases muscle tension.
  • Try to take breaks and remove your mask when it is safe to do so.

How to treat jaw pain and headaches at home

If you are experiencing TMJ pain or headaches after wearing your face mask, there is good news. Most pain can be treated at home and will go away with time. Here are some home care ideas:

  • Alternate heat and ice on your jaw and neck as needed.
  • Perform gentle neck stretches.
  • Perform exercises to stretch the muscles around your scapulae, which are part of your shoulders. Check out some stretching ideas here.
  • Do some jaw exercises:
    1. Keeping your tongue on the roof of your mouth, slowly open and close your mouth to stretch jaw muscles and lubricate the TMJ.
    2. With your mouth slightly open, slowly move your jaw side to side in a comfortable range.
  • Massage your cheeks and temples.
  • Practice relaxation and meditation techniques to reduce stress.

Summit Orthopedics supports healthy communities

Community health flourishes when specialized orthopedic care is conveniently available close to home. Summit Orthopedics is proud of our fellowship-trained subspecialty teams offering the full spectrum of orthopedic expertise in bone, tendon, ligament, muscle, and joint conditions—in addition to our wellness, prevention, and rehabilitation services. We have the expertise to proactively improve fitness, evaluate discomfort, and deliver personalized treatment to quickly and safely return you to the lifestyle you love.

Start your journey to a healthier, more active self. Visit our Facebook page to learn about our wellness services and schedule a free wellness consultation online. Find your orthopedic expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as several additional community clinics.

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