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HomeHealth articlestemporomandibular dysfunctionWhat Is Trismus?

Trismus and Its Clinical Evaluation: An Overview

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Trismus results from excruciating spasms of the muscles surrounding the jaws. This causes limited mouth opening.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Partha Sarathi Adhya

Published At March 1, 2024
Reviewed AtMarch 1, 2024


Trismus is characterized by extremely tight jaw muscles that prevent wide mouth opening. The temporomandibular joint muscle spasm is known as trismus. Treatment for head and neck cancer frequently results in trismus. Physicians treat trismus with medication and physical therapy.

Trismus impairs one's capacity to open their mouth widely. When two or three fingers are clasped together, a person's mouth can spread as wide as possible; however, trismus can limit this opening to just one or two fingers. They could find it challenging to talk or eat because of this restriction. While trismus symptoms typically get better in a few weeks, in some cases they can cause depressive symptoms.

What Are the Risk Factors for Trismus?

Trismus can strike anyone, although it typically affects specific populations:

  1. Young adults with lower wisdom teeth extractions between the ages of 18 and 25 often suffer from trismus. Wide and prolonged mouth opening during the procedure and post-operative infection may cause trismus.

  2. Cancer patients of the head and neck often complain of trismus. Studies show that trismus develops in more than 40 percent of patients who have had radiation therapy for head and neck cancer.

  3. Individuals suffering from temporomandibular dysfunction (disorder of temporomandibular joint) may also suffer from trismus.

Trismus can result from several medical conditions. The most frequent causes include complications after wisdom tooth extraction, responses to cancer treatment, and problems with the jaw joint (TMD). Other reasons include:

  1. Inflammatory Conditions: Rheumatoid arthritis (an infectious disease of the joints), osteoarthritis (destruction of bone structure), and scleroderma (an autoimmune disease of the skin) are a few examples of disorders that can cause trismus and impact the jaw joint.

  2. Infections: Trismus can result from illnesses like tonsillitis and mumps. It can also be brought on by infections in the salivary glands, throat, or teeth.

  3. Trauma: A blow to the jaw or other injury might result in trismus.

  4. Peritonsillar Abscess (PTA): Some tonsillitis patients experience pus-filled pockets termed peritonsillar abscesses, which are located close to the tonsils. People who have PTA may experience trismus.

It should be noted that trismus and tetanus are different. The symptoms of the two illnesses are similar. Similar to trismus, tetanus can cause excruciating discomfort and make it difficult for individuals to open their mouths. The main distinction is that trismus happens when something affects the jaw, such as wisdom teeth extraction or cancer therapy. Conversely, tetanus, which is sometimes referred to as lockjaw, is a bacterial illness that can produce widespread muscle spasms

What Are the Symptoms of Trismus?

The primary sign of trismus is that the person is unable to extend their jaws as widely as they usually can. Additional indicators include experiencing jaw muscular tension, such as jaw cramps. Even when they are not eating, talking, or attempting to move their jaw, it aches. Chewing solid food hurts, and so does yawning.

It is difficult for them to swallow, communicate, and eat because of trismus. Because patients can not swallow correctly, it can lead to breathing issues. Doctors may need to utilize alternative techniques, such as placing the tube through their nose or performing surgery if inserting the tube via their mouth is not effective. Long-term trismus sufferers may develop jaw issues that require specialized care.

What Are the Diagnostic Methods?

When someone visits a doctor because they have trouble opening their mouth because of trismus, the doctor will inquire about the patient's symptoms and perform a temporomandibular joint, jaw, and neck examination. The physical examination aids in the healthcare provider's assessment of the problem's severity.

Sometimes medical professionals may suggest further testing, like CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans, to obtain a more comprehensive picture of the affected area. These imaging studies give the doctor a precise diagnosis by giving a good image of the jaw's muscles and joints. Healthcare professionals can identify the origin and severity of trismus by integrating data from these imaging tests with information from physical examinations. This information helps them plan the best course of action for each patient.

How to Manage Trismus?

Trismus, a disorder that makes it difficult to open the mouth completely, needs to be carefully managed according to its underlying cause. The main strategy focuses on treating the underlying problem while relieving symptoms. An outline of the therapies used to cure trismus is shown below:

Pain Reduction:

Pain reduction can be done in the following ways:

  1. Heat Therapy: To help relax the muscles, apply wet hot towels for 15 to 20 minutes every hour.

  2. Pain Relief: Aspirin is usually adequate; however, prescriptions for muscle relaxants such as Diazepam may be necessary.

  3. Soft Diet: Patients' jaw tension can be reduced by encouraging them to follow a soft diet.

Physical Rehabilitation and Workouts:

  1. Stretching Activities: Patients may benefit from activities that include trying to expand their mouths against resistance after the acute phase. These exercises are usually performed many times a day.

  2. Physiotherapy: Uses targeted movements to increase blood flow, decrease edema, and strengthen and extend muscles. Chewing gum without sugar might also encourage lateral motions.

Options for Advanced Treatment:

  1. Persistent Cases: If a patient's condition worsens longer than anticipated, physiotherapy may be increased, occasionally incorporating microcurrent therapy or jaw mobility rehabilitation equipment. In some circumstances, derivatives of Xanthine, like Pentoxifylline, may be taken into consideration.

  2. Surgical Intervention: If conservative measures fail to alleviate severe and chronic trismus, surgery may be necessary. These may involve tissue release and free flap repair, coronoidectomy (surgery of the coronoid process of the mandible), or lowering mandibular height to provide a wider mouth opening.

Prompt Consultation:

Referral to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon is advised if trismus is severe or does not resolve within two to three days. More specialized assessment may result in more focused treatment strategies. The cause of their illness determines their prognosis, or anticipated course of events. People with trismus may have long-lasting symptoms following cancer therapy. To manage their condition, they could need prolonged physical therapy sessions.


A common side effect of treatment for head and neck cancer is trismus, or tightness in the jaw. It may appear insignificant in comparison to cancer, but if left untreated, it can make it difficult for them to speak, eat, and regain their strength. They could feel angry and isolated. As a result, anyone receiving cancer treatment should inform their healthcare provider if it is difficult for them to open their mouth. The caregiver might offer advice on how to improve the condition.

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Dr. Ashwini Kumar



temporomandibular dysfunctiontrismus
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