While most people recognize the tension in the muscles of the neck and shoulders, they often forget about facial tension and the discomfort caused by it. Facial tension is one of the common types of muscle pain that usually occurs in specific areas of the face, jaw, forehead, and eyes.
Often facial tension is felt as a contraction of muscle that does not release quickly. Some of the common causes of facial tension include excessive stress, emotional distress, temporomandibular joint pain, anxiety, and frequent headaches.
Unlike facial pain, facial tension is often relieved by physical exercise and relaxing techniques. This is because facial tension requires relaxation of the muscle and surrounding trigger points. Sometimes medication and behavioral therapy may also help to treat facial tension. Today’s article will highlight the features of facial tension. Moreover, we will discuss the causes and treatment of facial tension.
What is facial tension?
Facial tension is often referred to as a contraction of the facial muscles or the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Typically, facial tension is a natural occurrence that is caused in response to excessive emotional and physical stress.
Usually, our body responds to stressful situations by releasing hormones that may activate the sympathetic nervous system. This system enables the ‘flight or fight’ activity leading to muscle contraction. (1) Prolonged episodes of physical and emotional stress may force the muscle to remain entirely or partially contracted, causing extreme pain and discomfort.
What are the symptoms of facial tension?
As mentioned above, facial tension usually causes discomfort to the face, eyes, jaw, neck, and shoulders. Typically, the symptoms of facial tension include the following –
- Tingling sensation in the trigger area
- Redness or inflammation of the affected part
- Damage to the lips
- Continuous or frequent episodes of headaches
Some of the contributing factors for facial tension symptoms are listed below –
One of the most common symptoms of facial tension is dull, aching pain in the forehead, or a feeling of tightness around the forehead and back of the head. Such episodic headaches caused by facial tension may last for as little as 30 minutes or as a long as a week. (2)
Some occasional headaches may happen periodically for less than 15 days per month for a minimum of three consecutive months. In such cases, facial tension headaches can become chronic.
- Suggested read: How to Get Rid of a Headache? Home Remedies for Headache
Chronic headaches caused by facial tension usually last for several hours, days, and even weeks. Typically, a person with chronic headaches may experience more than 15 episodes per month for at least three consecutive months. Many people with chronic headaches take medications more than two times a week. Therefore, it is essential to consult a doctor and find out the underlying cause.
Exaggerated symptoms due to stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety can heighten the discomfort and symptoms of facial tension in the following ways –
- Tingling on the face is an unusual symptom of increased anxiety. Often, this symptom is attributed to several factors, such as hyperventilation.
- Flushing and redness around the face is a visible symptom of excessive stress and anxiety. It happens due to the dilation of the capillaries in the face. Such symptoms can last for several hours or more.
- Damage to the lips is caused due to unconscious biting or chewing of the lips during anxiety. In severe cases, the lips may be chewed till the point of bleeding. Mouth breathing is a contributing factor that can dry the lips out, making it prone to damage.
What causes facial tension?
Typically, there are two leading causes of facial tension –
Stress or anxiety
Stress and anxiety are some of the most dangerous reasons for facial tension as they are harder to treat and heal completely. Often heightened anxiety may stimulate hyperventilation where the person may feel difficulty in breathing. (3)
Moreover, people with excessive stress and anxiety may develop lip biting as a coping mechanism that may damage the lips even to the point of bleeding.
- The tightening of the facial and jaw muscles is often seen as a sign of stress. Such activities can result in severe TMJ pain and muscle tension.
- Chronic TMJ disorders are also considered as the trigger points for facial tension.
Can you relieve facial tension naturally?
Although anti-anxiety medications have proven to help some people in managing the symptoms of facial tension, natural methods are still considered more effective and useful. Some of the natural ways of managing facial tension are –
- Stress relief by performing relaxation techniques, which usually include hot shower bath, body massage, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga.
- Facial exercise is one of the most effective methods for treating facial tension. Some of the facial exercises include smiling wide and touching the roof of the mouth with your tongue. (4)
Some activities involve frowning and relaxing the forehead, squeezing of the eyes, and nose scrunch movements. All of these exercises should be performed for at least two to three repetition cycles of 15 seconds each.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of goal-oriented talk therapy. It is typically a practical approach to teach the person how to manage the stress that causes facial tension.
- Biofeedback training is a unique technique used to monitor muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure. Additionally, the individual is taught different ways to control these body responses and reduce them by controlled breathing. (5)
- Some other ways to manage facial tension include – soft diet, proper sleep, regular exercise, balanced meal, good hydration, and limiting the consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.
A note on facial exercises
There are more than fifty facial muscles that help to maintain the structure and function of the face. Facial exercises are an excellent way to relieve facial tension. Some of the characteristic facial activities are listed below –
- Happy face exercise – smile as wide as you can and hold it for the count of five. Relax the muscles and perform at least ten reps of this exercise.
- Slack jaw – relax your jaw fully and let your mouth hand open. Touch the highest point of the roof of the mouth with your tongue and hold it for the count of five. Ease your jaw back into the resting position, close your mouth. Repeat this exercise ten times. (6)
- Brow furrow – this simple technique involves arching your eyebrows and wrinkling your forehead. Hold it for a count of 15 and repeat this exercise three times.
- Eye squeeze – close your eyes for at least 20 seconds, then completely let go of all the muscles around the eyes and stare expressionless on a wall for 15 seconds. Repeat this exercise three times.
- Nose scrunch – this involves two movements. Wrinkle the nose and flare the nostrils. Hold it for the count of 15 and relax. Repeat this exercise three times. (7)
Take away message
Facial tension is typical, a natural response of the human body towards excessive emotional and physical stress. In this condition, the muscles of the face, jaw, eyes, neck, and shoulders contract as a whole or even individually, leading to extreme pain and discomfort.
Some of the symptoms of facial tension include dull aching headaches, tingling sensation at the trigger point on the face, neck or shoulder, redness and inflammation of the affected muscle, and, in extreme cases, lip damage.
Often facial tension is treated with anti-anxiety medication therapy. However, it is essential always to identify the underlying cause of facial tension and relieve it completely. Some of the natural treatments of facial tension include relaxation therapy, diet and lifestyle modification, behavioral therapy, and facial exercises.