In this article, we will list ten useful TMJ exercises you can do, with the goal of helping you improve your condition and your quality of life. To have a better understanding of why such exercises can help you, we will first look at what TMJ disorder is, what causes it and how it manifests itself.
TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder is a general term used to define various problems with the functionality of your jaw. Most often, it is characterized by pain in your jaw joints and muscles, sometimes accompanied by noises during jaw movement and reduced jaw mobility.
While not considered a high-risk condition, TMJ disorder can cause a severe decrease in your quality of life and serves as a starting point for other problems, including depression and anxiety.
There is an ongoing debate among doctors on whether TMJ can be actually cured. Nevertheless, if you do suffer from a form of TMJ disorder, do not give in to despair. There is strong evidence that TMJ physical therapy exercises and consistent changes in your lifestyle can markedly improve your condition.
TMJ Disorder – Symptoms and Causes
Before describing some very useful TMJ exercises to help you alleviate your symptoms, we must first take a look at how TMJ Disorder can affect your quality of life and at some causes associated with the disorder.
Doctors are still debating whether TMJ disorder is an actual condition, or if the various TMJ symptoms are actually stand-alone medical conditions. Though there is some evidence to indicate the existence of a disorder, any of the following symptoms may be present.
- Pain in your jaw muscles and joints. The most common symptom associated with TMJ disorder is pain and/or an uncomfortable sensation in jaw muscles and joints. Jaw muscles are painful to touch and normal activities like chewing or yawning become a nuisance. The pain is not usually very strong and it can either pulsate or stay constant.
- Reduced Jaw Mobility. TMJ disorder can also cause a limitation in your ability to properly chew food, as you subconsciously limit your jaw movement in order to avoid painful positions. This symptom is usually more intense in the morning and can be accompanied by a lack of coordination and pain when yawning.
- Noises in the mandibular joint. Another important symptom is the occurrence of noise in the jaw joints when moving the jaw. Sometimes this can be the only symptom. It indicates a non-optimal functionality in jaw ligaments and cartilages.
- Headaches. In some cases, the above symptoms can be accompanied by mild to moderate headaches, usually in the back or front of the head.
- Hearing loss or other hearing disorders. Due to the close proximity between the areas affected by TMJ disorder and the ear, there is a possibility that hearing could be affected, either by a diminished hearing acuity or tinnitus (the impression of noise when external sound is absent).
The causes of TMJ disorder can vary greatly and to discover the determining element can be a tricky task. However, addressing and/or solving issues related to some of the following factors can also help with TMJ.
- A previous back injury. There is consistent evidence that back injury and trauma can lead to TMJ disorder. The explanation would be that, because of trauma to your back muscles and skeletal system, joints and muscles in your skull no longer function as they should and are subjected to stresses and forces they were not intended to sustain.
- Posture. Posture is very important in maintaining a healthy life and a bad posture is connected to TMJ disorder. Similarly to trauma, an incorrect posture can change the interaction between muscles, joints and the forces they must manage.
- Joint disease. Degenerative joint diseases, such as arthritis, can cause a lack of mobility in joints, the jaw joints included. If you are diagnosed with such a condition, treatment, exercises and lifestyle changes should improve your condition.
- Psychological. Stress, anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders can cause muscle and joint pain due to the effect they have on body chemistry and muscle contraction. This can also lead to a self-perpetuating condition, where more stress aggravates pain, which in turn enhances stress.
- Hormonal disorders. Though still debated among doctors, there is evidence that hormonal balance and healthy gland functions reduce, directly or indirectly, the risk of joint and muscle problems.
TMJ Effects on the Quality of Life
The impact of TMJ disorder on your quality of life can be significant, which makes finding a way to reduce symptoms all the more important. Here are some major ways in which TMJ disorder can affect your life.
- Eating difficulties. Pain in your jaw muscles and joints can turn eating from one of the finest pleasures in life into a painful and annoying experience. This can lead to unhealthy changes in your diet, weight loss (or gain) and other problems related to nutrition.
- Speaking and communication difficulties. Sometimes, the pain can cause speaking difficulties, which seriously influence your quality of life in all circumstances.
- Concentration issues. Constant pain in your jaw does not help your concentration and can seriously hamper your ability to work and successfully complete tasks.
- Psychological trauma. All the above aspects can have a profound negative influence on your self-esteem and can cause a relapse for other conditions you might have has, such as chronic stress, depression, and anxiety. Treating the psychological side of TMJ disorder is considered a key factor by some doctors.
TMJ Exercises to Relieve Pain, Increase Mobility, and Build Strength
Despite the gravity with which some people and doctors look upon TMJ disorder, there are many things you can do to help you get rid of the symptoms and recover your jaw functionality. Besides any TMJ treatment your doctor might recommend, the following exercises are key to a successful TMJ relief from pain and a swift recovery.
Below, we’ve selected ten TMJ exercises for you, which can help you go back to living a normal life. You should do these exercises at least once a day, but preferably twice a day, in the morning, and before you go to bed. If you feel pain during the exercises, discontinue them.
Strength TMJ Exercises
These help you build up your jaw and skull muscles and are important for increasing jaw strength so that it can respond to internal and external forces correctly.
- Jaw Exercise 1. Put your thumb beneath your chin, with the rest of your fist pointing forward, and push upwards. Then, open your jaw against the pressure made by your hand. Do three sets of five repetitions each.
- Jaw Exercise 2. This exercise does the exact opposite. Hold your chin open by placing your fingers just beneath the lower lip and pull down. Then close your jaw against the pressure made by your hand. Do three sets of five repetitions each.
- Jaw Exercise 3. Move your jaw laterally as much as possible, from the extreme left to the extreme right. Repeat ten times.
- Jaw Exercise 4. This exercise is good at relieving extra pressure in your jaw joints. Push your jaw forward until your bottom teeth are slightly in front of your upper teeth. Repeat ten times.
Stretching TMJ Exercises
These help you build mobility in your head and jaw ligaments, a vital element in relieving joint pain and pressure.
- Head Exercise 1. Do four sets of complete head rotations, two clockwise and two anti-clockwise. Each set should have at least ten repetitions.
- Head Exercise 2. Do two sets of complete lateral turns and two sets of vertical inclines with your head. Each set should have 10 repetitions.
- Jaw Exercise 5. Open your mouth as much as you can and close it back again. Repeat 5 times.
Posture TMJ Exercises
Amounting to a sort of TMJ yoga, these exercises help you maintain a correct body position, which ensures that your bones and muscles do what they are supposed to and not something else.
- Back exercise 1. Our office jobs make us slouch a lot. Force yourself into a correct upright posture and maintain it for two minutes, then repeat. Remember that the head should be directly above the shoulders at all times, and not in front of them.
- Back exercise 2. Assume a push-up position, by resting your palms on the ground. Keep your head straight and maintain the position for one minute. Repeat 2 times.
- Back exercise 3. Pull back your head and shoulders, with your arms raised parallel to the ground. Maintain the position for thirty seconds and repeat 2 times.
Remember that you should practice these TMJ exercises daily. Results never come quickly, so you will have to be persistent for an extended period of time.
If done under the supervision of a doctor and alongside specialized treatment, there is a good chance your overall condition will improve in time and perhaps even heal completely. TMJ exercises are an excellent way to use a set of muscles which are very often neglected and, as results appear, your quality of life will improve.
Read more about TMJ Disorder here.