Jaw Fatigue and Swelling

trumpet jaw swelling jaw fatigue

Jaw Swelling

Have you found that after a lot of physically demanding playing, you experience fatigue or swelling in your jaw?

Unless your teeth perfectly align when you close your mouth, your jaw needs to position itself to find a relatively flat alignment of your lower and upper teeth for the mouthpiece to rest on. This leads to a jaw position which may be farther forward, or out of alignment horizontally than its natural setting. Players who re-position their jaw have what is referred to as a “floating jaw.”

While playing gigs/rehearsals which are challenging endurance and/or range-wise, the muscles holding the jaw in place can become over-worked. This exhaustion may lead to swelling and inflammation of the ligaments holding the jaw in place. This type of swelling is noticeable along the ear and diminishes the ability of the embouchure to contract, and maintain control of the tone.

I personally had a period of my playing career where the back part of my jaw (by the ear) was visibly swollen, and hot to the touch. This happened as a result of me pushing too hard a year or so after an embouchure change, and it had a serious negative affect on my playing, as I was having difficulty maintaining the sound even in the middle register of the horn.

While this swelling did last for quite some time (possibly a few months), I was able to cure it quickly by doing some simple, basic jaw movements. If you experience any stiffness or swelling in your jaw as a result of trumpet playing, try these exercises to keep your jaw healthy, and limber.

Dynamic Stretches

1)      Lateral movement – with your jaw slightly open move it as far as you comfortably can to one side. You may feel a release of pressure (and even hear a “squish” noise) at the place where the jaw meets the skull.  Reverse the movement to the other side. This is one repetition.

2)      Forward movement – Jut your jaw straight ahead as far as is comfortable. Now pull it back. That’s one rep.

3)      Open sesame – Open you jaw as far as you can. Think of lowering the entire jaw bone from the head toward the floor rather than swinging open at the hinge. This will help you get the maximum stretch.


Start with low repetitions (around 3-5) and gradually increase over time to a number that feels comfortable to you. Perform a set in the morning before you warm-up, and a final set in the evening after you’re done for the day. Execute repetitions at a moderate tempo, and hold the stretches until you feel some release in the muscles.

You should notice positive results within a few days, if not immediately.

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One thought on “Jaw Fatigue and Swelling

  1. Great stuff James. The type of stretching you are describing here was prescribed to me by an orthopedic doctor when I was having dislocations due to my (advanced) TMJ issues. He also recommended not using a straw to drink beverages when it was avoidable, and to avoid chewing gum!

    The ‘floating jaw’ can be corrected in other ways as well– I work with my students to find an embouchure alignment position that is natural for each of them. For some reason many pedagogues believe that there is one ‘correct’ jaw/mouth position relative to the instrument, which of course runs counter to Reinhardt’s pivot system and examinations of the relatively large differences in embouchure between very successful players. If a player has a huge overbite, for example (a la Tommy Dorsey/Conrad Gozzo), they will play with a huge downstream instrument carriage… leading most teachers to instantly correct the ‘poor’ posture, thus causing the student to either lift his/her head back uncomfortably far or push forward his/her lower jaw, neither of which is ideal and both of which can lead to mandibular joint problems. So instead, I just let them point their instruments down and move on. This is just an example… a fairly good summary of Reinhardt’s pivot system can be found here (sorry it’s a trombone site): http://www.trombone.org/articles/library/viewarticles.asp?ArtID=240

    Mouthpiece placement, size and airstream direction are all factors, as well. I have not experienced ANY jaw problems related to my playing since having rejected the advice of my earlier teachers and adopting a IIIa pivot type and smaller mouthpiece choice, in addition to refining my air stream manipulation. I’m very thankful for the change and haven’t looked back, since.

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