What Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Exercises Relieve Pain?

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD, TMJ)
December 20, 2019
Everything You Wanted to Know About TMJ Disorders but Were Afraid to Ask
December 20, 2019
Understanding TMJ

You may not think about your temporomandibular joints (TMJ) much, but you use them a lot. The joints connect your jawbone to your skull. Your TMJ springs into action each time you talk, chew, and swallow.

TMJ disorders occur when something goes wrong with your jaw joints and jaw muscles. Oftentimes, this happens because of a jaw injury, inflammation such as with arthritis, or overuse.

TMJ disorders may cause mild to debilitating symptoms, such as:

  • pain while chewing
  • pain in the ear, face, jaw, and neck
  • clicking, grating, or popping sounds in the jaw when you open or close your mouth
  • locking of the jaw joint
  • headaches
Exercises for TMJ pain relief

It’s unclear exactly how TMJ exercises may relieve pain. They’re thought to help:

  • strengthen jaw muscles
  • stretch the jaw
  • relax the jaw
  • increase jaw mobility
  • reduce jaw clicking
  • promote jaw healing

According to one 2010 study published in the Journal of Dental Research, performing TMJ exercises increases mouth opening range more than using a mouth guard in people with TMJ disc displacement.

These nine exercises from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the Royal Surrey County Hospital may help relieve TMJ pain and improve the movement of your jaw joints. For some exercises, there are frequency recommendations. For exercises where frequency recommendations aren’t available, ask your doctor or dentist for guidance.

1. Relaxed jaw exercise

Relaxed jaw exerciseShare on Pinterest

Rest your tongue gently on the top of your mouth behind your upper front teeth. Allow your teeth to come apart while relaxing your jaw muscles.

2. Goldfish exercises (partial opening)

Goldfish exercises (partial opening)Share on Pinterest

Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and one finger in front of your ear where your TMJ is located. Put your middle or pointer finger on your chin. Drop your lower jaw halfway and then close. There should be mild resistance but not pain. A variation of this exercise is to place one finger on each TMJ as you drop your lower jaw halfway and closed again. Do this exercise six times in one set. You should do one set six times daily.

3. Goldfish exercises (full opening)

Goldfish exercises (full opening)Share on Pinterest

Keeping your tongue on the roof of your mouth, place one finger on your TMJ and another finger on your chin. Drop your lower jaw completely and back. For a variation of this exercise, place one finger on each TMJ as you completely drop your lower jaw and back. Do this exercise six times to complete one set. You should complete one set six times daily.

4. Chin tucks

Chin tucksShare on Pinterest

With your shoulders back and chest up, pull your chin straight back, creating a “double chin.” Hold for three seconds and repeat 10 times.

5. Resisted opening of the mouth

Resisted opening of the mouthShare on Pinterest

Place your thumb under your chin. Open your mouth slowly, pushing gently against your chin for resistance. Hold for three to six seconds, and then close your mouth slowly.

6. Resisted closing of the mouth

Resisted closing of the mouthShare on Pinterest

Squeeze your chin with your index and thumb with one hand. Close your mouth as you place gently pressure on your chin. This will help strengthen your muscles that help you chew.

7. Tongue up

Tongue upShare on Pinterest

With your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, slowly open and close your mouth.

8. Side-to-side jaw movement

Side-to-side jaw movementShare on Pinterest

Put a ¼ inch object, such as stacked tongue depressors, between your front teeth, and slowly move your jaw from side to side. As the exercise becomes easier, increase the thickness of the object between your teeth by stacking them one on top of each other.

9. Forward jaw movement

Forward jaw movementShare on Pinterest

Put a ¼ inch object between your front teeth. Move your bottom jaw forward so your bottom teeth are in front of your top teeth. As the exercise becomes easier, increase the thickness of the object between your teeth.

Other ways to manage your TMJ pain

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen may help relieve TMJ pain. Muscle relaxers may be prescribed for severe pain. Doctors may also recommend:

  • mouth guards to prevent teeth grinding and jaw clenching
  • mouth guards to help realign your jaw
  • warm towels
  • ice, no more than 15 minutes per hour and not directly on the skin
  • stress-relief techniques to help prevent behaviors that cause jaw tension
  • acupuncture to relieve pressure in the affected area

Severe pain caused by damaged joints may require more invasive treatments, such as corticosteroid injections into the TMJ. Surgery may be considered as a last resort. There isn’t any scientific evidence that surgical interventions for TMJ disorders are safe and effective.

TMJ pain may also be managed with simple lifestyle changes. You may wish to:

  • eat a soft diet to allow the TMJ to relax
  • avoid chewing gum
  • avoid biting your nails
  • avoid biting your lower lip
  • practice good posture
  • limit large jaw movements, such as yawning and singing
Tips for relieving pain during dental care

If you have TMJ, it may be painful to practice basic oral hygiene. This includes brushing your teeth, flossing, and getting routine dental cleanings.

The TMJ Association recommends these tips to reduce pain and help make sure your teeth and gums stay healthy:

  • Use a soft-bristle toothbrush or a sonic toothbrush.
  • Use a rubber tip stimulator or water flosser if you can’t open your mouth to floss.
  • Add an antiseptic mouth rinse to your daily dental care regimen.
  • Tell your dental care team if you’re in pain during a dental procedure.
  • Apply ice or heat after a dental procedure.
  • Talk to your dentist about ways to remove plaque other than flossing. For example, they may suggest wiping your teeth with cotton gauze.
The bottom line

In some cases, TMJ disorders go away on their own. If your symptoms persist, TMJ exercises may help bring pain relief. TMJ exercises shouldn’t be done when you’re in severe pain. The AAFP recommends waiting until your pain is better before starting a TMJ exercise regimen.

When doing TMJ exercises, start slowly. You may feel some pain at first, but it should be tolerable and gradually improve. If the pain isn’t tolerable, consult your doctor. You should do TMJ exercises when you’re relaxed. If you do them when your muscles are tense, it may defeat the purpose.

If your pain worsens after doing TMJ exercises, make an appointment with your doctor.

TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) Disorders

What is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your mandible (lower jaw) to your skull. The joint can be found on both sides of your head in front of your ears. It allows your jaw to open and close, enabling you to speak and eat.

This abbreviation has also been used to refer to a group of health problems related to your jaw, but this is becoming more commonly abbreviated as TMD or TMJD to distinguish the temporomandibular joint itself from TMJ disorders. These disorders can cause tenderness at the joint, facial pain, and difficulty moving the joint.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, as many as 10 million Americans suffer from TMJD. TMJD is more common among women than men. These disorders are treatable, but there are many different possible causes. This can make diagnosis difficult.

Keep reading to learn more about TMJD. You should discuss any concerns with your doctor.

What causes TMJ disorder?

In many cases, it’s not known what causes a TMJ disorder. Trauma to the jaw or joint may play a role. There are also other health conditions that may contribute to the development of TMJD. These include:

  • arthritis
  • erosion of the joint
  • habitual grinding or clenching of the teeth
  • structural jaw problems present at birth

There are some other factors that are often associated with the development of TMJD, but they haven’t been proven to cause TMJD. These include:

  • the use of orthodontic braces
  • poor posture that strains the muscles of the neck and face
  • prolonged stress
  • poor diet
  • lack of sleep
What are the symptoms of TMJD?

The symptoms of TMJ disorders depend on the severity and cause of your condition. The most common symptom of TMJD is pain in the jaw and surrounding muscles. Other symptoms typically associated with these disorders include:

  • pain that can be felt in the face or neck
  • stiffness in the muscles of the jaw
  • limited movement of the jaw
  • locking of the jaw
  • clicking or popping sound from the TMJ site
  • shift in the jaw, changing the way that the upper and lower teeth align (called malocclusion)

Symptoms may show up on just one side of the face, or both.

How is TMJD diagnosed?

TMJ disorders can be difficult to diagnose. There are no standard tests to diagnose these disorders. Your doctor may refer you to a dentist or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist to diagnose your condition.

Your doctor may examine your jaw to see if there is swelling or tenderness if you have symptoms of a TMJ disorder. Your doctor may also use several different imaging tests. These can include:

  • X-rays of the jaw
  • CT scan of the jaw to see the bones and joint tissues
  • MRI of the jaw to see if there are problems with the structure of the jaw
How is TMJD treated?

In most cases, the symptoms of TMJ disorders can be treated with self-care practices at home. To ease the symptoms of TMJ you can:

  • eat soft foods
  • use ice to reduce swelling
  • reduce jaw movements
  • avoid chewing gum and tough foods (like beef jerky)
  • reduce stress
  • use jaw-stretching exercises to help improve jaw movement

You may need help from your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with these treatments. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe or recommend the following:

  • pain medications (such as ibuprofen)
  • medications to relax the muscles of the jaw (such as Flexeril, Soma, or Valium)
  • medications to help reduce swelling in the jaw (corticosteroid drugs)
  • stabilization splints or bite guards to prevent teeth grinding
  • Botox to reduce tension in the muscle and nerves of the jaw
  • cognitive behavioral therapy to help reduce stress

In rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery or other procedures to treat your condition. Procedures can include:

  • corrective dental treatment to improve your bite and align your teeth
  • arthrocentesis, which removes fluid and debris from the joint
  • surgery to replace the joint

Procedures used to treat this condition may, in some cases, make your symptoms worse. Talk to your doctor about the potential risks of these procedures.

How can TMJD be prevented?

You may not be able to prevent TMJD from developing, but you might be able to reduce symptoms by lowering your stress levels. It could be helpful to try to stop grinding your teeth if this is an issue for you. Possible solutions for teeth grinding include wearing a mouth guard at night and taking muscle relaxants. You may also help prevent teeth grinding by reducing your overall stress and anxiety through counseling, exercise, and diet.

Outlook for TMJ disorders

The outlook for a TMJ disorder depends on the cause of the problem. TMD can be successfully treated in many people with at-home remedies, such as changing posture or reducing stress. If your condition is caused by a chronic (long-term) disease such as arthritis, lifestyle changes may not be enough. Arthritis can wear down the joint over time and increase pain.

Most cases of TMJD warrant changes in lifestyle habits, possibly combined with medications to ease any pain and discomfort. Aggressive treatments are rarely needed. Talk to your doctor about your options to determine what treatment is right for you.

TMJ Specialist Los Angeles

Dr. Jacob Elisha has over 30 years of experience in the field of dentistry, periodontics, and cutting-edge restorative techniques in Los Angeles, CA. Dr. Jacob Elisha is an authority in on TMJ Disorders. He has successfully treated patients with TMJ disorders in Los Angeles in the past and looks forward to the future.

TMJ Disorders. An award-winning oral maxillofacial surgeon and Los Angeles TMJ specialist, Dr. Jacob Elisha is known for providing among the most effective TMJ treatment Beverly Hills has to offer—improving jaw function and delivering permanent relief from chronic pain.

TMJ disorders affect your temporomandibular joint, which allows your mouth to open and move smoothly. We offer specialized treatment in Los Angeles, CA . The temporomandibular (tem-puh-roe-man-DIB-u-lur) joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. You have one joint on each side of your jaw. TMJ disorders — a type of temporomandibular disorder or TMD — can cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement. The exact cause of a person’s TMJ disorder is often difficult to determine. Your pain may be due to a combination of factors, such as genetics, arthritis or jaw injury. Some people who have jaw pain also tend to clench or grind their teeth (bruxism), although many people habitually clench or grind their teeth and never develop TMJ disorders. In most cases, the pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorders is temporary and can be relieved with self-managed care or nonsurgical treatments. Surgery is typically a last resort after conservative measures have failed, but some people with TMJ disorders may benefit from surgical treatments. TMJ disorders can also cause a clicking sound or grating sensation when you open your mouth or chew. But if there’s no pain or limitation of movement associated with your jaw clicking, you probably don’t need treatment for a TMJ disorder. Seek medical attention if you have persistent pain or tenderness in your jaw, or if you can’t open or close your jaw completely. Your doctor, your dentist or a TMJ specialist can discuss possible causes and treatments for your problem.

What are the risk factors for TMJ syndrome? There are several risk factors for TMD: Poor posture in the neck and upper back muscles may lead to neck strain and abnormalities of jaw muscle function. Stress may increase muscle tension and jaw clenching. Women 18-44 years of age have increased risk. Patients with other chronic inflammatory arthritis have increased risk. People with jaw trauma or poorly positioned teeth have increased risk. People who have a genetic predisposition to pain sensitivity and increased stress responses may be more susceptible.

The temporomandibular joint is more commonly referred to as the TMJ joint, but what is TMJ? This joint is actually located at the base of the skull in front of the ear structure and connects the lower jaw (mandible) with the upper jaw (maxilla). Unlike most joints located in the body, the TMJ is unique in its structure, composed of a rounded protrusion of the mandible that sits against an indentation in the skull, and a disc-like structure made of a soft bone called cartilage found in between the two bones (articular disc). These three parts of the TMJ are held together by ligaments originating from different parts of the head and neck to support the jaw and guide its movements. Several muscles are connected to those ligaments, and many aid in the motion of the lower jaw. How Does it Work? The TMJ works in two ways to open your mouth: The first way is like a hinge to simply open and close the mouth, just like a hinge on a door. The second way is a sliding motion called translation, wherein your lower jaw moves down and forward. This motion helps the TMJ to move backward and forward and from side to side for actions such as eating, yawning and singing – some of the most common. What Can Happen to the TMJ? Like any other joint in the body, the TMJ can be fractured, swell and become sore, causing limited movement of the lower jaw and pain radiating to the head and neck area. A fracture to the actual articular disc is rare, but it can be displaced, causing severe pain and swelling. Unlike other joints such as knees and hips, arthritis of the TMJ is very rare, and hard to treat with anti-inflammatory drugs alone. Nonetheless, pain in the TMJ is often temporary, and can be treated with a combination of ice then heat to relieve the sore ligaments and muscles surrounding the joint. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull. Temporomandibular joint disorder, known more commonly as TMD, occurs when there are problems with the muscles and jaws in the face. There are many signs and symptoms of TMD. It’s often hard to know for sure if you have TMD, because one or all of these symptoms can also be present for other problems. Your dentist can help make a proper diagnosis. What About Grinding and Clenching? Sometimes, pain in the TMJ can come from the teeth themselves, as opposed to the TMJ and surrounding ligaments.

As a TMJ doctor, Dr. Jacob Elisha delivers a TMJ treatment in Los Angeles for patients who are suffering from extreme pain to help resolve the condition. Because TMJ disorders can be extremely painful, Dr. Jacob Elisha’s first priority is symptom relief. Although these measures won’t permanently cure TMJ, they will alleviate much of the chronic pain associated with the condition. This variety makes diagnosis and treatment challenging. An accurate diagnosis is critical for successful treatment. For instance, patients with a muscle problem that is causing pain will most likely not benefit from surgery on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Ask about your doctor’s experience in diagnosing and treating TMJ and facial pain. Most problems, whether muscular or within the joint, get better over time. For this reason, most experts agree that it’s best to use conservative treatment at first. But in some instances, surgery or other procedures, such as injections, may be recommended as a first treatment. Most people with TMD have temporary symptoms that are not serious and do not get worse. They usually can get better with simple treatments done at home. Sometimes symptoms go away without any treatment at all. They also can come back without warning. If you have TMD, your dentist may suggest the treatments listed below. Most dentists agree that these treatments work best in combination. You may not get relief using only one. To begin, Dr. Jacob Elisha will prescribe a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory or muscle relaxant to relieve muscle spasms and joint pain. In some cases, he may also inject a specialized steroid directly into the joints to dramatically reduce pain and inflammation. From there, Dr. Jacob Elisha will prescribe self-care treatments—advising the patient to rest the jaw, eat soft foods, apply ice to the affected area and practice proper posture. Depending on the specifics of your TMJ disorder, he may also recommend physical therapy to improve jaw function.

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