Like many other parts of the body, we don’t realize how important the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is until it stops working properly. The TMJ is a unique joint that allows your jaw to open and close and to move back and forth and side to side.
Different TMJ exercises can help lessen jaw pain for some disorders. Exercises may include activities like side to side jaw stretching, pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth, using jaw relaxation techniques, training the muscles to relieve tension or simply practicing good posture.
If you suffer from TMJ disorder, you may be experiencing one or more of the following symptoms: jaw pain, ear pain, eye pain, dizziness, ringing in the ears, facial pain, spasms, teeth grinding or clenching, neck and shoulder pain, jaw locking and clicking or popping sounds in the jaw.
Just as exercising your body can limit certain aches and pains, exercising your jaw can help lessen pain in the TMJ.
After evaluating your symptoms, your neuromuscular dentist may recommend specific jaw exercises for your situation. Here are a few to consider:
- TMJ Strengthening Exercises – The goal of these exercises is to make the muscles surrounding the TMJ stronger, thus decreasing pain and discomfort.
Strengthening exercises involve opening and shutting your mouth while placing some resistance on your chin at the same time. Here is an example: Place your thumb under your chin and gently push downward. As you are pushing your thumb, open your mouth slowly and then keep it open for a few seconds. Then slowly close it.
A variation of this exercise involves placing your thumb under your chin and the index finger of the same hand between your chin and lower lip. Push in gently as you slowly close your mouth.
Additionally, exercises that improve your posture help to strengthen the supporting muscles that may interact with your TMJ and jaw muscles. You can improve the strength of your posture using exercises like the 3 posture improving drills listed at Breaking Muscle. Alternatively you need to avoid forward head posture in order to realign your musculoskeletal system and doing these exercises to “reset your posture” can have immediate improvements in some cases.
- TMJ Stretching Exercises — Another way to lessen TMJ pain is by gently stretching the TMJ area. Try pressing the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth before slowly opening your mouth as wide as possible without it hurting. Then slowly close your mouth.
You can begin another stretching exercise by close your mouth and by keeping your jaw as relaxed as you can. Now, with your teeth slightly apart, look upwards with your eyes and open your mouth slowly as wide as you can. Hold your mouth in the open position for a few beats before slowly closing it.
Many TMJ dentists recommend yoga exercises or meditation as good way to reduce TMJ pain through proper breathing techniques. There are many yoga stretching activities that you can use to help ease your muscle pain and realign your back, neck and jaw. These TMJ specific yoga poses include eagle arms poses, head tilts, chin tucks and locust pose variations.
- Relaxation Exercises – Exercises that reduce stress also can help relieve TMJ pain. Breathing exercises are a good place to start. Inhale deeply and hold for a count of five or 10 before slowly exhaling.
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises help to relax the muscles from your core all the way up to the jaw and around the head. They can also help to retrain your brain on proper breathing giving you a better chance in combatting sleep apnea and unconscious breathing. Different techniques include breathing exercises in sitting posture, lying down and mindful deep breaths that help to ease muscle tension.
Not all exercises are created equal, and you may find that certain activities you do actually can be contributing to your TMJ pain.
- Posture Exercises for TMJ:
Poor posture can lead to and exacerbate TMJ problems. Poor posture can sometimes occur from actual exercise or improper form when working out. Other times it occurs over time from the process of neglect.
For instance, if you are a runner or if you walk for exercise, you may be worsening your TMJ disorder without realizing it. If you are a strength trainer you may be negatively impacting your posture by over working certain muscle groups and under working others. This tends to happen when we focus on chest and ab muscles but neglect back muscle groups.
Likewise if you have a desk job or spend much of the day sitting down, it is important to remind your muscles of the proper position. Posture improvement exercises can provide quick relief of tension and minor pain. Try resetting your posture by following this simple exercise.
Improper footwear could be the reason. Wearing high heels or non-supportive footwear could be throwing the joints of your body – including your jaw joint – out of alignment. Choose well-made supportive shoes and consider arch supports or insoles for your shoes to help you stand straighter and to ultimately feel more comfortable.
Do you spend much of your day at a desk looking into a screen? Many of us do. However, long stretches at a computer screen can do damage to your muscles and joints. You may find that your TMJ symptoms decrease if you pay closer attention to your sitting posture. Here are a few tips:
- Aim to keep your shoulders back and your chest forward, lengthening your spine as you sit.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor with your knees at or above hip level.
- Ensure your computer screen in at eye level.
Whether standing or sitting upright, try to keep you head centered on your shoulders. Your head is actually quite heavy. The average human head weighs about 10 or 11 pounds — the same weight as the average bowling ball! When you repeatedly tilt you head forward, it puts strain along the length of your spine and can put ongoing stress on the jaw joint.
Each case of TMJ is unique. A neuromuscular dentist who is experienced in treating TMJ disorder will recommend other stretching or strengthening exercises that are right for you.
Many TMJ patients find relief with Yoga, Tai Chi and swimming. These activities combine stretching and strengthening techniques and also require you to maintain good posture.
Talk to your TMJ dentist about exercise recommendations that are right for you.