What Are the Best Jaw Exercises for TMJ?
In the United States, more than 10 million people are affected by a temporomandibular joint disorder. These disorders, which affect the joints on either side of your jaw, can cause discomfort, tightness, and pain that ranges from moderate to severe. Although it is difficult to determine exactly what causes some people to suffer from TMJ, several factors seem to contribute to the problem. Common ones include jaw injury, grinding the teeth or clenching the jaw, arthritis, or simply genetics. While there is no cure for the disorder, there are exercises that work as TMJ pain treatment. According to the Journal of Dental Research, TMJ exercises help to relax and stretch the jaw, which decreases the discomfort of “clicking” that sometimes occurs in the jaw as well as strengthens the facial muscles and increases mobility and healing power. If you suffer from the disorder, try some of these exercises to ease the discomfort.
Types of Exercises
Before doing any jaw exercises, you should know about the three types and what they are best for. TMJ sufferers typically do strengthening, relaxation, or stretching exercises.
- Strengthening: Perform these exercises between flare-ups. They strengthen your jaw so that you might have fewer flare-ups or do not feel as much pain when you do have one. Avoid these when you’re already in pain as they can make it worse.
- Relaxation: Use relaxation techniques to relieve tension in your jaw and the rest of your body. This can help to ease a flare-up or even prevent a stress-induced one.
- Stretching: If you are having a TMJ flare-up, stretching exercises can ease the pain.
Relaxing the Jaw
Perhaps the easiest treatment for TMJ is to consciously relax your jaw. To do this, place your tongue directly behind your upper front teeth and against the roof of your mouth. Focus on separating your teeth and relaxing slowly, resting your jaw until your mouth is open.
Using a resistance exercise when you don’t feel pain can help to strengthen your jaw muscles. To start this exercise, place your thumb under your chin. Using moderate pressure, press against the bottom of your jaw while opening and closing your mouth 10 times. Next, put your thumb in front of your chin. Using the same amount of force, move your jaw as if you were opening and closing dresser drawers. Keep in mind that this exercise will not relieve pain. Avoid doing it when you’re in pain and if you begin to feel pain, stop until it eases up.
There are two types of goldfish exercise: partial and full opening. Regardless of which method you use, you should do one set (six times) at least six times per day.
- Partial Opening: Place your finger on your jaw joint (right in front of your ear). Using your other hand, put your finger on your chin. Place your tongue against the roof of your mouth and drop your jaw until it is about halfway open. Close and repeat. You should feel a bit of resistance but should not feel pain.
- Full Opening: The full opening method uses the same steps. However, you should drop your lower jaw completely for this method.
Although TMJ pain can make it difficult to use the repetitive motions associated with chewing, biting down on something is a surprisingly effective TMJ treatment. Place a pencil or an object of similar shape and size between your teeth. Bite down gently and slide your bottom jaw back and forth to move the pencil back and forth. Doing this several times may provide relief.
Resisted Mouth Closing
The resisted mouth closing exercise is excellent for strengthening the muscles that help you to chew. Using your index fingers and thumbs, squeeze your chin. Continue gently pressing down on your chin as you close your mouth.
Sometimes, relieving TMJ pain is simply about relaxing the rest of your mind and body. Stress can cause you to clench your jaw or grind your teeth, exacerbating TMJ pain in the process. To help ease the stress you’re holding in your jaw and other parts of your body, close your eyes and inhale slowly for as long as you can. Hold your breath for a second or two and then release it slowly. Repeat until you begin to feel more relaxed. This exercise has the added benefit of slowing your heart rate, which can reduce blood pressure.
Although similar to the pencil exercise, side-to-side movements are useful for strengthening muscles but not relieving pain. To do this exercise, place an object that is about 1/4-inch tall between your front teeth and then move your jaw back and forth. For this exercise to remain useful, you should increase the thickness of the object as it becomes easier to move your jaw.
TMJ pain doesn’t need to take over your life. If you are interested in more information about jaw exercises or another treatment for TMJ, get in touch with the professionals at National Headache Institute.