Your jaw is an amazing thing. It can move up and down, side to side, and front to back. It helps you chew, talk, sing, and yawn. If you’re one of the millions who suffer from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, however, your jaw can also be a source of pain and discomfort. Luckily, TMJ exercises can provide relief.
Pain is one of the most common—and sometimes debilitating—symptoms of a TMJ disorder (a.k.a. TMD). Annoying TMJ symptoms may include chronic headaches (especially upon waking) as well as “clicking” or “popping” sounds in the jaw, difficulty chewing, “locking” of the jaw in either an open or closed position, a swollen face, and tinnitus (e.g., ringing in the ears). For some, these TMJ symptoms are a mere annoyance; others can become incapacitated by the severity of their condition.
WHAT CAUSES TMJ?
Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD) can be caused by numerous factors, the most common of which is stress. When under stress, our heart rates increase, blood pressure skyrockets, and our muscles tense.
Pay close attention the next time you’re feeling bogged down, angry, or frustrated. You’re likely clenching your teeth or, worse, biting down on something like a pen, ice cube, or your nail. The result: pain, an uncomfortable bite, and headaches, among other TMD symptoms.
Other triggers of TMD can include teeth grinding, arthritis, jaw injury, and habitual gum chewing. To learn more about TMJ disorders, read our post TMJ Pain: 9 At-Home Treatments to Ease Jaw Discomfort.
How Is TMJ Treated?
There are multiple treatments for TMD. One of the most successful is to become aware of your clenching and grinding tendencies, says Richard Price, DMD, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. Notice the conditions under which you become stressed and make a conscious effort to relax your jaw and loosen your bite. (Our post 11 Proven Stress Relief Strategies offers easy tips to help you relax.)
Dr. Price also advises TMD sufferers to chew soft foods, apply a warm compress to the jaw, stop chewing gum, and avoid opening too wide. Wearing a custom-made oral splint, using anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., Advil), and seeing a physical therapist are other recommended treatments.
Perhaps the easiest and most successful TMD treatments, however, involves TMJ exercises.
What are TMJ exercises? They’re simple, easy-to-perform movements you can practice from the comfort of your own home (or at your desk). Before trying TMJ exercises as a means to ease jaw pain, it’s important to consult your dentist or medical professional.
ICE IS NICE
Pain is often a result of inflammation. One thing inflammation doesn’t like: ice. Apply an ice pack (on top of a thin cloth to protect your skin) to the painful part of your jaw for up to 20 minutes, especially after you’ve conducted your TMJ exercises.
Are TMJ Exercises Safe?
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, it’s safe to start TMJ exercises once your pain has subsided. Strengthening your jaw, they say, can help prevent pain from returning.
The key is to start slowly and understand that you may experience some pain in the beginning. As long as this pain is tolerable and improves over time, you can keep going. It’s best to perform TMJ exercises when you’re feeling relaxed. If the pain becomes too much or if any of the TMJ exercises become uncomfortable, stop immediately and seek help from a medical or dental professional.
7 TMJ Exercises to Try at Home
|Resisted Opening||Open your mouth slowly while placing a thumb under your chin and pushing lightly. Hold this for a few seconds before slowly closing your mouth.|
|Resisted Closing||Place a thumb below your chin and an index finger on the soft ridge between your lower lip and chin. Push lightly down while closing your mouth.|
|Tongue-to-Roof||Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth while you slowly open and close.|
|The Side Slide||Relax your jaw and close your mouth. Slowly move your jaw to one side while looking to the other. Do not move your head or neck—only your eyes. Hold this for a few seconds before centering your jaw. Repeat on the other side.|
|Wide Stretch||Relax your jaw and close your mouth. Part your teeth slightly, then open your mouth slowly as wide as you can. Look up and hold for a few seconds before slowly closing.|
|Fist Push||Place your fist beside your jaw and push against it lightly.|
|Forward Move||Place something between your front teeth (it should be about ¼ of an inch thick). Move your bottom jaw forward until your bottom teeth move in front of your front teeth. Hold for 20 seconds. To make this more challenging, increase the width of the object.|
Stretching is another helpful tactic for combating TMJ pain. Proper stretches can help relax the muscles and joint, relieving tension and reducing bothersome symptoms of TMD. Again, always check with a dental or medical professional to make sure TMJ stretches work for your condition.
If you get the go-ahead, try these two TMJ stretches today.
- Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Slowly open wide and hold for up to 10 seconds.
- Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Slowly move your lower teeth as far in front of your upper teeth as you comfortably can. Hold for up to 10 seconds. Then move your lower jaw back as far as you comfortably can and hold for up to 10 seconds.