Yawning is a natural occurrence that all humans experience. Typically, we yawn when we are tired, bored, or even anxious. Seeing someone else yawn often makes you yawn as well, so it can be “contagious”. Truly it is an interesting phenomena that does happen when you see someone else yawn. Studies have showed yawning to be a contagious social interaction between humans. However, humans are not the only ones who yawn. Yawning is seen in nearly all animals, even birds! I wonder if they ever get painful muscle cramps under their chins while yawning?
All jokes aside, some people will get painful cramping under their chin when they yawn. This can be very unpleasant and can last several seconds until it resolves. It almost feels rock hard underneath the jaw when this happens. It can also feel tingly or numb when this occurs. This article is going to discuss why we yawn, anatomy underneath the chin, and why the cramping is occurring. I will be sharing tips and tricks I have learned to help prevent painful cramping underneath the chin while yawning.
Why Do Humans Yawn
First, I want to discuss why we even yawn in the first place. Yawning, is quite a common human behavior that you will see all around the world. Yawning is described as a moment of mouth opening with a long inspiration (breathing in), with a brief moment of holding the air in, and then a short expiration (breathing out). Yawning has often been associated as a sign of boredom and drowsiness. This is all involuntary! Meaning we have no control over it. Did you know the average duration of a yawn is about 5 seconds?
Even though yawning is such a natural occurrence there is actually little research on yawning. There is still some debate in the literature as to why we yawn. Some studies suggest yawning could be due to arousal, brain cooling, social interaction, and even ear pressure. Researchers say that yawning is one of the least understood human behaviors in the world today. Although, we all can agree that yawning most have an important physiological purpose, not simply due to boredom.
Muscles Underneath The Chin
I want to discuss the anatomy of the muscles underneath the chin, because these are the muscles that are cramping/spasming when you yawn. You can see in the image just how many muscle are underneath the chin. It is quite remarkable! The muscles underneath the chin are primarily responsible for depressing the mandible (opening your mouth). Since these muscles are responsible for opening your mouth, you can see how these muscles would play a role in yawning.
The primary muscles responsible for opening the mouth or yawning are the Mylohyoid, Lateral Pterygoid, and Digastric muscles. The Digastric muscles are composed of an anterior and posterior belly. The anterior belly is the main portion that helps open the mouth. So look at the image, and you can see how the Digastric and Mylohyoid muscles sit right underneath the chin. They run from the chin to the Adams apple. That is where people experience muscle cramping while yawning.
Causes of Cramping While Yawning
Cramping underneath the chin while yawning is caused by a forceful contraction of the suprahyoid muscles. It is the same occurrence that happens to other muscles of the body such as your calve or foot. Commonly called a “charley horse”. Although, this can be worrisome and painful, cramping while yawning is not harmful or a cause for concern. The suprahyoid muscles are the muscles responsible for opening the mouth or yawning. The suprahyoid muscles consists of four muscles underneath the chin, and are the stylohyoid, geniohyoid, mylohyoid, and digastrics muscles. Another muscle that plays a role in yawning is the genioglossus muscle which helps move the tongue. Typically when people yawn they not only cause a forceful contraction of the jaw, but also the tongue. Next time you yawn think of what your tongue is doing.
Cramping or a “charley horse” is another name for a muscle spasm. Cramping underneath the chin while yawning is a muscle spasm of the suprahyoid muscles. Muscle spasms can occur while yawning because an extremely forceful contraction occurs. Unlike when you normal open your mouth which is typically not as wide or fast. Yawning occurs very fast and is an extreme opening of the mouth. These muscles are not used to this type of forceful contraction which can trigger them to spasm. The spasm typically last a few seconds and can be very painful.
Ways to Prevent Cramping While Yawning
One of the best ways to prevent cramping while yawning is to slow down your yawn, or yawn more gently. This will prevent the fast forceful contraction of the suprahyoid muscles, and prevent them from spasming. If you feel a yawn coming or while yawning, try to relax and not open your mouth as wide, and slow down the opening. You can still yawn without fully opening your mouth. This is extremely helpful and prevents cramping for most individuals.
Another great tip is to relax your tongue! Most people forcefully contract their tongue while yawning as well. Which could cause the genioglossus muscle to spasm. I recommend relaxing your tongue, and laying your tongue flat on the bottom of your mouth. This will prevent the muscle spasms from occurring. It is important to do both. So remember to gently/slowly open your mouth while yawning, don’t open it as wide, and relax your tongue while yawning. If you do all those things you will prevent cramping underneath the chin while yawning.
Supplements for Cramping
Another suggestion is taking natural supplements for cramping. I only recommend taking a supplement for cramping after you have tried the tips to prevent cramping while yawning stated above. Also, I would consider taking a supplement for cramping if you experience cramping of other muscles throughout the day. Some people experience cramping only while yawning, but others may experience cramping of their calves, feet, or thighs throughout the day. That is when supplementation would be beneficial. If you are cramping a lot throughout the day it could be due to an electrolyte imbalance. I recommend consulting with your Physician before starting any supplementation.
I know how painful and worrisome it can be when you experience a cramp underneath your chin while yawning. Remember to consciously control your mouth opening and tongue while yawning. This typically does the trick for most people. You will notice that you are cramping less underneath the chin when you begin to slowly control the mouth opening and tongue while yawning. Most of the time this condition is benign (not harmful), and is not a cause for concern. It simply is a muscle spasm similar to a “charley horse”. However, if you notice any other changes or problems related to this issue I recommend consulting with your Physician.