The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is not commonly talked about but it is crucial when opening and closing the mouth. This joint is unique as it allows forward, backward as well as side-to-side movement of the jaw. Even then, it can develop a disorder resulting in pain in the jaw or near the ears. This is referred to as Temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
While this discomfort may go away without TMJ disorder treatment, TMJ exercises offer great relief to ease the irritation. This is especially good news to the more than 15% of Americans experiencing chronic facial pain like jaw pain, earaches or headaches because TMJ and TMD accounts for a percentage of these cases. So can working out your jaw really alleviate pain associated with this disorder?
Generally, TMJ exercises may alleviate the pain for some individuals and not others depending on the cases. The ultimate goal of the exercises is to retrain the jawbone to move properly without pain while strengthening muscles. You may experience intense pain at the beginning that tends to clear as the jaws get used to the new movement. Generally, the muscles are retrained after about two weeks of exercises.
TMJ Exercises that can help in Pain Relief
Here are some of the common TMJ exercises that can help in relieving pain:
- Strengthening exercises
This is one of the popular exercises for TMJ pain relief. If you are actively experiencing pain and discomfort due to a TMJ problem, exercising the area is not recommended. Rather, American Academy of Family Physicians advice that TMJ strengthening exercises be done once the pain has subsided to keep it from recurring. The exercises involve closing and opening your mouth while placing emphasis resistance on the chin. For a resistance opening exercise, you will need to place your thumbs under the chin before gently pushing it downward against it. While pushing your thumb, open your mouth slowly and keep it open for little while before closing it slowly.
For a resistance closing exercise, place your thumb under the chin and your index finger of the same hand in the ridge between the lower lip and the chin. Gently push while you close your mouth.
- Stretching exercises
Stretching the joint area and jaw gently can also help in keeping TMJ from returning. One of the ways of stretching the jaw involves pressing the tip against the tongue roof the mouth. You can then open your mouth slowly as much as you can while being careful not to elicit pain. In case you experience pain, abandon the exercise as it may be a sign that you need more time before engaging in the exercise. Related stretching exercises focus on moving the jaw on its own without causing discomfort. Some of the TJM jaw exercises include the following:
Begin with the mouth closed relaxing your jaw as much as possible. Open your mouth as wide as you can with your teeth slightly apart and eyes looking up. This should be done slowly. You can then open your mouth, holding it for a few seconds before closing it.
When your mouth is closed, move your jaw to the left as you look to the right without turning your head or neck. Hold on in this position for a while before moving back to the center. You can repeat this stretch moving the jaw to the right side as you look to the left.
- Relaxation exercises
These are exercises that are aimed are relieving TMJ pain, particularly if it is related to stress. Breathing exercises are recommended as they help in easing tension in the jaw muscles. If you feel tense, inhale for a count of between 5 and 10 before exhaling slowly. Although this is not an actual exercise for TMJ, you need to learn how to reduce stress from your life as this will go a long way in easing discomfort that is related to TMJ.
- Caring for your mouth
Apart from the stretching and strengthening exercises, caring for your mouth also compliments your TMJ pain relief efforts. For instance, you need to be careful not to open your mouth too wide when flossing or brushing, especially when you want to reach the second and third molars. You can also consider your choice of toothpaste by investing in toothpaste that can restore enamel that is weak from TMJ clenching pain.
Ultimately, TMJ exercises should not hurt as such; any pain you experience when opening your mouth or stretching should be a cue that you need to speak with your dentist.