TMJ Exercises to Relieve Pain
What is TMJ?
TMJ, or temporomandibular joint syndrome, is excessive pain and dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint, whether brought on by acute trauma, forceful chewing, or a slew of other possible causes. This joint connects the mandible, or the lower jawbone, to the temporal bone of the human skull.
Because of the busyness of the area, with several connective tissues, nerve pathways and muscles intersecting each other, TMJ can manifest in dozens of symptoms. The most common symptoms include clicking of the jaw, pain to the jaw and neck, and difficulty chewing.
While it isn’t extremely commonplace in physical therapy settings, rehabilitating a jaw affected by TMJ adheres to the same healing doctrine that knees and ankles do. First focus on decreasing swelling and increasing range of motion, and then build strength to avoid re-injury and restore functionality.
Both of these staples of the rehabilitation process, in addition to the use of therapeutic modalities, require exercises to take effect. The following TMJ exercises are typically used in the physical therapy setting for the patients to overcome their pain and inhibition.
To start with range of motion, the first exercise is a stretch for the temporomandibular joint.
Sit straight-backed in a supportive chair, looking directly ahead. Then, raise your tongue to the roof of your mouth; it will remain there for the entire exercise. Slowly open your mouth, maintaining steady breathing, and stop just before stretching meets pain. Count for five seconds at that spot, then slowly close your mouth. Complete 10 repetitions.
It’s important to begin with this exercise because it defines the threshold of pain while preparing the joint for strength exercises.
The next exercise incorporates resistance into the same motion to strengthen the neck and jaw muscles.
Place your elbow on a surface at around diaphragm height, such as a low table. Rest your head on your fist. Repeat exercise 1, making sure to move slowly and with control against the resistance of your fist. Using a chair’s armrest is discouraged because you will slouch and exert extra downward force on your elbow, which may slip and result in injury.
This exercise uses mandibular protraction, or the thrusting out of the lower jaw to strengthen the muscles that support the temporomandibular joint.
After establishing strong posture, slowly glide the lower jaw muscle forward, making an underbite. Hold for 2 seconds, and then bring your chin back. Make sure that the first repetition is very slow and controlled. If there is no pain at all, do 15 repetitions. To provide light resistance, push against your chin steadily with your fist.
Mandibular retraction is the opposite of exercise 3, and may seem awkward or uncomfortable the first time through your exercises.
With the same posture and positioning, move the mandible backwards this time so that you have a large overbite. It won’t move very far, probably an inch. Hold for 2 seconds and bring the mandible forward again. It’s even more important than with exercise 3 to do this exercise slowly, as too much pressure on the nerves behind the temporal mandibular joint can create problems. This is why boxers aim for the chin.
To increase lateral stabilization of the jaw, you must change the axis from “front and back” exercises to “side to side” exercises.
For this one, which incorporates mouth opening as well, begin by opening your mouth about one inch. Upon first opening your mouth, choose a side to move your jaw towards. On the next repetition, go the other direction. Continue alternating left and right until you have completed 10 repetitions. Always alternate to avoid overworking the TMJ side.
After having stretched the jaw laterally, it’s time to incorporate resistance.
For this exercise, don’t actively move your jaw at all. Place your fist against a cheek so that your knuckles are just under your cheekbone. Depending on your strength and pain level, apply anywhere between 3 to 8 pounds of steady resistance. Only let your jaw move an inch to the side. Hold for five seconds and repeat ten times. It’s still a good idea to conduct this exercise on both sides of the jaw to support proper biomechanics and symmetry.
While on the topic of proper biomechanics, it’s important to “re-educate” your jaw to work properly, as it probably opens crooked because of the TMJ.
To remedy this, stand in front of a mirror and face directly ahead, focusing on your jaw. Open your mouth and, observing the bias, correct your jaw so that it opens and closes straight. Repeat this ten times.
This exercise will directly target and strengthen the muscles that need it most.
Reassessing your flexibility and strength after a regiment of TMJ exercises helps you track progress and set goals.
As such, the last of the exercises that deal directly with the jaw should be mouth opening. This time, because you’re warmed up enough to handle a little resistance, roll your tongue back and then open, holding for 2 seconds at the top. If a physical therapist or friend with a goniometer is nearby, measure your progress.
Neck muscles that attach near the temporomandibular joint are often damaged with the patients, and tend to radiate pain downwards. Whether you feel any pain in the neck or not, keeping your neck flexible and strong is a must.
For a stretch, slowly bend your neck in each of the cardinal directions until you feel a strong but comfortable pull. Gently assist with your hand on your head if necessary. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds.
Finally, to eliminate all possibility of neck pain, do some neck isometrics.
Place your fist against your forehead, applying steady pressure, and push your neck against it. Neither your fist nor your head should move. Do the same for side bends, and neck extension, placing your fist on each temple and the back of your head, respectively. Complete 10 repetitions of 5-second holds for all four directions.
TMJ No More: The Natural Solution
Even though the TMJ exercises above can be very helpful in relieving the pain caused by the condition, they are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other exercises and natural remedies that not only ease the pain but also prevent it to reoccur in the future.
As a former TMJ sufferer herself, Sandra Carter pioneered her “TMJ No More” system to streamline the recovery of patients all over the world, delivering a wealth of advantages. TMJ No More supports the scientific method as a way to align each participant with their natural solution to TMJ.
Using her prowess and experience as a medical researcher and her connections with nutritionists and other medical professionals, Sandra created the natural solution for temporomandibular joint syndrome.
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