Lockjaw is a medical condition characterized by painful contraction of the masticatory muscles resulting in constriction of the jaw. It can interfere with movement and limit the ability to breathe, which in turn may ultimately threaten life.

Lockjaw is mainly associated with tetanus (lockjaw tetanus), which is generally the first sign, however, it can occur as a result of conditions affecting the trigeminal nerve or diseases of the oral cavity (tooth diseases, peritonsillar abscess). It may also be a manifestation of mental disorders such as hysteria (hysterical lockjaw).

Common symptoms of lockjaw include: spasms and stiffness in the jaw muscles, stiffness in the neck muscles, stiffness in the abdominal muscles, difficulty swallowing, painful body spasms, as well as fever, sweating, high blood pressure and an increased heart rate.

Lockjaw is rare and there is not cure for it. The main focus is generally put on controlling complications (possible broken bones or disability) until the effects of the tetanus toxin resolve.

Full recovery can take up to several months until the development of new nerve endings is complete.


What diseases may be associated with lockjaw?

Diseases that may be associated with trismus include the following:

  • Anger
  • Tetanus
  • Ebola
  • Hysteria
  • Tonsillitis
  • Peritonsillar abscesses
  • Periodonititis
  • Malaria
  • Meningitis
  • Gingivitis


Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive and it is always a good idea to consult with a doctor regarding any questions or concerns.


What are possible treatment options for lockjaw?

The targeted therapy to treating lockjaw depends strictly on identifying the exact cause of the condition. Since there is no cure for tetanus, treatment consists of wound care, taking medications to ease symptoms and supportive care.

Wound care consists of removing any dirt or dead tissue from the wound to prevent growth of tetanus spores

Medications include antitoxins, antibiotics, vaccines, sedatives and other drugs.

Supportive therapies include additional support such as through a ventilator to ensure proper recovery.


When is it advised to consult with a doctor regarding lockjaw? 

Puncture wounds or other deep cuts may put an individual at risk of tetanus infection. In any case regarding lockjaw, consulting with a doctor or going to the emergency room is advised. The doctor may need to clean the wound, prescribe an antibiotic and give the patient a booster shot of the tetanus toxoid vaccine. A few steps that can be taken to prevent an individual from getting lockjaw include the following:


  • Controlling bleeding of even a minor wound by applying pressure to it
  • Keeping the wound clean with soap and a washcloth
  • Using antibiotic cream or ointment to help discourage bacterial growth or infection of the wound
  • Covering the wound to keep harmful bacteria from closing in
  • Changing the dressing on the wound at least once a day to prevent infection


Lockjaw can be easily prevented by being immunized against the toxin. In almost all cases involving tetanus (lockjaw tetanus), individuals who have never been immunized or those who haven’t had a tetanus booster shot within the last 10 years, all have a high chance of developing lockjaw.