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Best TMJ Exercises for Pain Relief

Reviewed on 9/15/2020

TMJ disorders occur when TMJ and/or muscles around TMJ get affected.
TMJ disorders occur when TMJ and/or muscles around TMJ get affected.

11 exercises that may help in TMJ disorders include:

  1. Relaxed jaw exercise: The tongue is placed over the upper part of the mouth behind the upper front teeth. This helps relax the jaw muscles.
  2. Chin tucks: The chin should be tucked, creating a “double chin” and held for three seconds.
  3. Partial opening exercise: The tongue should be placed on the upper part of the mouth and one finger should be placed in front of the ear, over the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The index finger should be placed on the chin. After this, the jaw should be dropped halfway and closed, while gently applying pressure/resistance with the finger.
  4. Full opening exercise: The tongue should be placed on top of the mouth. One finger should be on TMJ and another finger over the chin. The lower jaw should be dropped completely and closed. For a variation of this exercise, place one finger on each TMJ as you completely drop your lower jaw and back.
  5. Resisted opening of the mouth: The thumb should be placed under the chin to create resistance while opening and closing the mouth slowly.
  6. Tongue up: The tongue should be on the top of the mouth while opening and closing the mouth.
  7. Resisted closing of the mouth: The chin should be gently squeezed between the index finger of one hand and thumb of the other.
  8. Side-to-side jaw movement exercise: An object of one-fourth-inch size should be placed between the front teeth, and the jaw should be moved side to side. The size of the object should be gradually increased. 
  9. Forward jaw movement exercise: An object of one-fourth-inch size should be placed between the front teeth, and the bottom jaw should be moved forward. The size of the object should be gradually increased.
  10. Mandibular stabilization exercise: The jaw is maintained in a neutral position. The thumb is used to push the jaw to the right and hold for three seconds. The same is repeated on the left.
  11. Neck stretching exercise: Neck stretching exercises can help TMJ pain.

What is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the jawbone and skull. It is situated just in front of the ears. TMJ moves while talking, chewing, and swallowing; hence, TMJ is essential for these functions to take place normally.

TMJ disorders occur when TMJ and/or muscles around TMJ get affected. This could be due to trauma, joint swelling, or joint arthritis due to joint overuse.

What are the symptoms of TMJ disorders?

Symptoms may be mild, moderate, or severe and debilitating, such as:

  • Pain while talking, chewing, or swallowing 
  • Pain in the ear, face, jaw, or neck
  • Clicking, popping, or grating sounds during jaw movements
  • Locking of TMJ

Exercises for TMJ pain relief

Mechanism of action:

The exact mechanism of how temporomandibular joint (TMJ) exercises help in relieving pain is unknown. The following benefits of TMJ exercises could possibly help in pain relief:

  • Strengthening of the muscles around the joint
  • Stretching and relaxing the jaw
  • Increased jaw mobility
  • Increased range of mouth opening
  • Promoting healing of the jaw

There are several exercises that can be done for TMJ disorders. There are no guidelines on the frequency of the exercises. Hence, it is advised to consult a doctor or dentist to analyze the type of exercise and frequency depending on the extent of TMJ disorders and to help design an exercise regimen. Overdoing exercises can lead to joint overuse, worsening inflammation, and pain. Most exercises can be done 6-10 times, two to three times a day.

Along with exercises, these additional home remedies and lifestyle changes may help relieve TMJ pain:

  • Joint rest and limit large movements of the joint
  • Avoid chewing hard foods
  • Switch to a soft diet till the joint heals
  • Avoid chewing gum or chewy sweets such as gummy bears
  • Avoid biting of nails and pen/pencil tops
  • Avoid constant biting of the lower lip
  • Change posture by avoiding sleeping on the affected side or switching to a softer pillow
  • Use mouth guards to realign the jaw and prevent teeth grinding and jaw clenching
  • Use warm compress towels
  • Apply ice to the affected ear for no longer than 15 minutes per hour
  • Apply pain-relieving ointments containing painkillers such as diclofenac over the affected area
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen
  • Perform stress-relief techniques help prevent jaw tension caused because of stress
  • Acupuncture or acupressure may help relieve TMJ pain and pressure

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References
https://www.pat.nhs.uk/gps-and-partners/Joint%20Pain%20Leaflet.pdf

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