Lockjaw: overview and more


Trismus (lockjaw) is a spasm of the jaw muscles that affects jaw movement. If you develop this condition, your jaw may become stiff in a certain position and you may not be able to open your mouth wide. The elbow can be painful and cause complications such as suffocation. Side effects from medications, cancer treatments, and tetanus are just a few of the possible causes.

Get Medication Information / Brianna Gilmartin

Trickjau symptoms

The contraction affects the entire jaw and is usually the same on both sides. It can happen suddenly, peaking within a few hours.

There are several nerves and muscles that control jaw movement. Due to its anatomical location, lockjaw is usually characterized by a partially open jaw position.

Although the inability to open your mouth fully is the most common symptom of lockjaw, other symptoms can occur .

In just a few hours, lockjaw is associated with:

When you cannot control your mouth, your speech can be difficult for others to understand and you may have trouble swallowing.

After about a day, lockjaw can affect your oral health, as you cannot swallow saliva. This can cause:


If you experience lockjaw for more than a few days, it can affect your overall health. Complications of persistent lockjaw of the jaw include:

  • Tooth decay and ulcers in the mouth due to the inability to brush and floss effectively.
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding) , which can lead to abrasion of tooth enamel and even cracked teeth.
  • Malnutrition due to difficulty eating
  • Muscle contracture: muscle stiffness characterized by changes in muscle structure that cannot be treated as easily as muscle spasms.


A muscle spasm is a condition in which a muscle remains in an active position and cannot relax. It can be due to an injury to a muscle, nerve, bone, tendon, or ligament .

Another common cause of jaw locks is hypocalcemia. Sometimes this can happen during thyroid surgery.

You could think about how often you have Charlie's horse on your leg if you don't stretch before you run. The muscle spasm that occurs when the jaw is truncated is essentially the same, only in a different location and with a number of different possible causes and risk factors.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) diseases

The temporomandibular joint is located on the sides of the face, under the eyes, and towards the ears. This joint contains the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments that control your jaw.

Temporomandibular joint disorders , often called TMJ, can develop due to arthritis, an inflammatory condition, or an injury to the face. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) generally results in a triple jaw .

Because TMJ is often a chronic condition, the associated lockjaw can recur even after it resolves.


Infections of and around the mouth or jaw muscles, such as a peritonsillar abscess , can interfere with jaw movement and lead to a triple jaw .

In rare cases, your nerve or muscle can be permanently damaged by infection, which could predispose to recurrent bouts of lockjaw.


Certain medications can affect nerve function and can predispose or cause lockjaw. Raglan (metoclopramide) and some antipsychotic medications are the most common culprits.

In rare cases, anesthetics can cause a rare complication called malignant hyperthermia, which can cause muscle spasms, including lockjaw .


Cancer and some cancer treatments (such as surgery or radiation therapy) can damage the structures that control jaw movement. If you have had head or neck cancer , or have had surgery or radiation therapy for these cancers, you have about a 30% chance of developing trismus .


Tetanus is caused by a life-threatening neurotoxin secreted by the bacterium Clostridium tetani that is commonly found in the environment. Tetanus toxin can cause muscle spasms, which can affect the heart muscles, the chest muscles (making it difficult to breathe), or any other voluntary muscle in the body, including the jaw.

Tetanus is a significant risk factor for lockjaw and almost always causes it. In fact , this lockjaw used to be called tetanus. However, tetanus is extremely rare in most parts of the world, as vaccines and boosters to protect against infection are common .

Other medical conditions

Sometimes muscle spasms can cause nerve or muscle problems. For example, constricted person syndrome , a rare autoimmune disorder, can cause spasms in any voluntary muscle .


A hematoma is diagnosed based on your medical history and physical exam. The implications of this can make it difficult for medical personnel to verbally explain your symptoms, so most people should write down their medical history.

Physical exam

Typically, most people can open their mouths 35 to 55 millimeters (mm) wide, or 1.4 to 2.2 inches. If you have lockjaw, you will only be able to open your mouth less than 35 mm (1.4 inches), less than three fingers wide. Your healthcare provider will measure how far you can open your mouth to see if it is within or outside the normal range.

If you have lockjaw, you may not be able to close your mouth completely and most likely have trouble moving your jaw. Your healthcare provider may also find stiff, tight jaw muscles and clenched teeth.


If you are concerned that you may have an injury, infection, or swelling affecting your mouth, face, or jaw, you may need a diagnostic test.

Imaging tests such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT ), ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) often reveal lesions in and around the jaw .

In some cases, a biopsy is required so your healthcare team can take a closer look at the tumor.

Watch out

Otolaryngologists (ENTs) , dentists, and dental surgeons treat trismus and may recommend medication and / or physical therapy. Additional treatments are usually needed to correct the underlying problem (such as an infection) as well.

If the muscle spasm was caused by medication, it is generally recommended to stop it. (Never stop taking any medicine without your doctor's approval.)

Spasm relief and therapy

Oral and injectable muscle relaxants are often helpful. Common examples of oral medications include Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) and Skelaxin (metaxalone) . However, these medications can cause side effects such as drowsiness.

Targeted injections, including botulinum toxin or anti-inflammatory steroids, can relax muscles and relieve spasms. Injections require planning of an interventional procedure and do not cause the systemic side effects seen with oral medication.

In addition to medications, you may need physical therapy and / or a speech therapist . Your therapist may also suggest exercises at home so that you can improve your jaw muscle control. When participating in home therapy, it is important that exercise is not painful.

Treat the underlying problem

If your lockjaw is caused by a medical problem, you will need treatment for the underlying cause of your lockjaw. For example, infections may require oral or intravenous (IV) antibiotics. TMJ may require anti-inflammatory treatment. Tumors may require radiation therapy or surgery.

If the cause of trismus is due to radiation therapy or surgery, physical therapy may be the most effective treatment approach. It can be very difficult to cure persistent trismus after radiation therapy.

Get the word of drug information

If you have lockjaw in your jaw, you may be at risk of developing it again, so it is important to discuss preventive measures with your doctor. Prevention strategies may include avoiding the medications that cause it, treating the temporomandibular joint , and exercising the jaw muscles regularly. More importantly, if you notice your symptoms worsening, you should seek immediate medical attention to avoid contractures or other complications.

Frequently asked questions

  • Tetanus is a bacterial infection that affects the nerves. In many cases, this causes lockjaw and other symptoms including difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, and body cramps. Infection is rare today, thanks to tetanus shots that provide protection.

  • Locurion (also called lockjaw) can often be treated with an injectable or oral muscle relaxant. Two examples of oral medications include Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) and Skelaxin (metaxalone) , but they can cause drowsiness. Muscle injections, such as botulinum toxin or anti-inflammatory steroids, can also help relieve muscle spasms.

  • The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) allows us to chew food, speak and yawn. This is the joint that connects the jaw to the skull. TMJ disorders can lead to stumbling in the jaw, pain, and other problems with joint function. Arthritis, inflammatory diseases, and facial trauma are known causes of TMJ disorders.

  • The elbow can last from a few hours to several days. It only takes a few hours to experience headaches, jaw pain, and earache, and symptoms get worse over time. It is recommended that you contact your doctor as soon as possible for early treatment.

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