Written By Anita Ginsburg / Reviewed By Ray Spotts
The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are located on each side of the jaw below the ears. They are responsible for opening, closing, and clenching the jaw. Unfortunately, these joints are highly susceptible to dysfunction.
Sometimes, there are no noticeable symptoms associated with a TMJ dysfunction. Other times, though, this disorder can cause health issues including clicking when you chew or talk, difficulty chewing, or even a locking jaw.
Most noticeably, a TMJ dysfunction can cause intense aches and pains in the area of the TMJ. You may notice pain in your jaw, around the ear, or in the joint itself.
These symptoms all require attention. Medications and surgery may be options to address TMJ pain, but there are also less invasive methods that patients can employ at home to achieve substantial pain reductions as well.
The exercises to improve TMJ function and reduce pain generally fall into three categories: strengthening, relaxing, and stretching. Here are a few exercises you can try to ease your TMJ pain.
Strengthening Exercises To Help Ease TMJ Pain
Strengthening exercises are an important part of preventing TMJ pain when you know you have a TMJ dysfunction. However, you won’t want to do these exercises when you’re already experiencing pain. While these can reduce future pain, they can also exacerbate current pain.
Strengthening Exercise #1
Hold your thumb firmly against the bottom of your jaw in the middle, under your two front teeth. Gently but firmly apply pressure upward, pushing your jaw toward your nose. While keeping your thumb under your chin, hold here while slowly opening and closing your jaw against the pressure.
Strengthening Exercise #2
With your index finger pressed against the space between your chin and your bottom lip, open your mouth widely. Push against your chin with your finger while closing your mouth.
Relaxation Exercises To Help Ease TMJ Pain
Stress can cause you to unconsciously clench your jaw. Unfortunately, when you have a TMJ dysfunction, this can cause intense pain, which certainly won’t help your stress levels. However, there are some relaxation exercises you can do to relieve tension in your jaw. They can also help reduce stress.
Relaxation Exercise #1
This is called "slow breathing" or "controlled breathing." Varying iterations of this practice are performed by yogis and other spiritual leaders with the belief that it promotes enlightenment.
These breathing exercises, characterized by full inhalations with the stomach (not the chest) and slow, extended exhalations can significantly relax the jaw muscles and, in turn, reduce TMJ pain.
Try the 4-7-8 method, which calls for four seconds of deep inhalation, followed by seven seconds of holding your breath, rounded out by an eight-second, slow and full exhalation.
Relaxation Exercise #2
You can do this either seated or lying down. You should be comfortable and relaxed. Once there, gradually move through each muscle in your body, flexing and relaxing each one, starting from the toes until you reach the jaw. You can do this at any pace you like.
Stretching Exercises To Help Ease TMJ Pain
Stretching exercises are particularly good to go during a TMJ pain flare-up. Like the relaxation exercises, they reduce tension in that part of your body. Additionally, as these exercises promote jaw flexibility, they can help reduce future pain.
Stretching Exercise #1
To perform this stretching exercise that will improve the flexibility of the TMJ over time, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Open your mouth widely, holding for roughly 10 seconds, then close your mouth again.
Stretching Exercise #2
Put a thin, cylindrical object, like a pencil or a metal or hard plastic straw, so that it rests across your lower teeth, poking out of each side of your mouth. Close your mouth so that the object is between your top and bottom teeth, but don’t bite down.
Slowly push your lower jaw forward so that the object rolls to now rest against your back lower teeth and your top front teeth. Then return to your starting position.
These exercises can give you temporary relief and reduce future pain. However, if symptoms, including non-pain symptoms, continue, you should consider talking with a TMJ dentist.
They may be able to help you find the cause of the TMJ function. They may also be able to prescribe medication or other treatments to prevent future flare-ups.
TMJ pain is difficult to deal with because it occurs in a spot that is constantly in use. Prolonged pain can keep you from doing things like talking or eating. If you’re experiencing TMJ pain, try some of these exercises or contact your dentist.
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Anita Ginsburg is a freelance writer from Denver, Colo. She studied at Colorado State University, and now writes articles about health, business, family and finance. A mother of two, she enjoys traveling with her family whenever she isn't writing. You can follow her on Twitter @anitaginsburg.
Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.