TMJ dysfunction is a common syndrome, involving symptoms of pain, clicking and stiffness of the jaw joint and surrounding muscles. At its mildest the problem is an occasional annoyance. But for some patients it leads to frequent, quite severe pain and limited movement of the mouth. The pain can spread out to affect the neck, temples and can lead to migraines.
As you can read on the previous page, there are a variety of things that are proven to be useful for relief of TMJ symptoms. In this article we will focus on jaw exercises, and how do these properly to get best results.
Note that with severe cases, your doctor or dentist may need to prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs or even a muscle relaxant such as diazepam. If in doubt, always get professional opinion before undertaking any TMJ exercises.
So why do these jaw exercises?
These natural exercises are not a quick fix. They do take some practice and time, but they really will help with symptomatic relief in the long-term. This study showed that exercises alone can give quicker relief from TMJ pain than wearing a mouth guard can.
How do they help?
Depending on the exercise that you do, the aims are to;
- relieve acute symptoms and prevent chronic recurrences,
- reduce jaw clicking and popping,
- retrain the jaw to open and close properly and smoothly, limiting deviation to the side.
By carrying out these repetitive jaw pain exercises, you will be strengthening and conditioning the jaw muscles and ligaments. The aim is to take the strain of those muscles that are being overworked and contributing to the problem.
We will outline a few routines are sure to help relieve the pain and stiffness of TMJ syndrome. These all mainly involve simple, gentle repetitions of precise jaw movements. It is a good idea to sit up straight when doing these temporomandibular joint exercises, as good posture is an important element in relieving jaw strain.
A simple exercise to stop jaw clicking
If your jaw is clicking, follow the simple routine outlined below, and do so twice a day for a few weeks:
- Gently close your mouth until the teeth are just touching. Make sure that you feel no pressure being exerted.
- Place the tip of your tongue just behind the front teeth, touching the roof of your mouth.
- Now roll your tongue back, but keep it touching your palate.
- Slightly open your mouth, doing so slowly. Only open to the point where you can feel your tongue being pulled away from the roof of your mouth. When doing this, make sure that you are opening perfectly straight. If necessary, check by standing in front of a mirror. You may see that the jaw naturally deviates to one side – this is common for patients with TMJ dysfunction. The aim is to gently counteract this deviation with practice.
- Hold your mouth open for five seconds, then close and relax.
Now repeat this simple process for 5 minutes each time (again, do so twice daily). To begin with you may feel some strain around the joint. This is normal, and is down to the muscles adjusting to these new movements. If you notice any clicking when undertaking the above, you are probably not doing the exercise properly. Just relax and try again from the beginning.
Isometric jaw exercises
The following repetitions are aimed at strengthening the facial muscles, by moving the jaw in various directions, while applying gentle opposing force. Again, sit upright while doing these.
- Open your mouth slightly and place the tip of your index finger above the lower front teeth. Isometric exercise implies using the muscles against a force, without moving them. in this case, you gently press down with your finger, but press against this with your jaw. Hold this static position for five seconds. Simple.
- Next we are doing some resistance exercise in the opposite direction. Take your finger out, keeping your mouth in the same position. Now gently press up against your chin with a thumb or your fist, and resist any movement by pressing against it with your jaw. Again, hold for five seconds.
- Finally, we do resistance exercises for sideways movements. This is done by pressing against one side of your jaw with your index finger, resisting movement by pressing gently with your jaw and holding for five seconds. Repeat for the other side.
Stretching TMJ Exercises
Another straightforward routine, this involves assisted stretching open of the mouth.
- Warm up the joint with several small opening and closing movements.
- Then place your index and middle fingers on the tips of the front teeth.
- Slowly pull down until pain is felt on the most affected side. The pain should be mild only. Do not over-do it.
- Hold this for 30 seconds.
- Repeat this stretch routine three times doing so four times a day.
With acute cases of TMD, you may find it difficult to open your mouth very wide. Just start off gently and keep at it. You will soon notice improvement in how wide you can open. It would seem counter-intuitive to perform an action like this that can cause some pain. But stretching out the muscles is an important routine, if you want fast relief from pain and stiffness.
Again, as mentioned above, if symptoms are sever you may need some form of anti-inflammatory to help with relief.
How long you will need to do these exercises will depend on a few things:
- How severe the problem is to begin with
- Whether or not you are grinding your teeth (bruxism) a lot
- How well you keep up with the daily routine (yes, they can be slightly boring! But the benefits make this well worthwhile)
Often, within 2 to 3 weeks the symptoms will be markedly reduced. Should symptoms persist, or you have any concerns or queries, do seek professional advice from your dentist.
Advice can also be found at TMJ.org – a group set up for TMD patients.