Physical Therapy Exercises for TMJ

Physical Therapy Exercises for TMJ Disorders


Talking, chewing, and other basic facial movements should come with ease. But for individuals with TMD, which are conditions affecting the temporomandibular joints, these everyday movements can be incredibly painful. Depending upon the type and severity of your condition, you may find relief with simple, painless TMJ exercises. Keep reading to learn why the temporomandibular joint is a common site of discomfort, and how to find relief with physical therapy exercises for TMJ disorders.

What Is the TMJ?

The temporomandibular joints are located on either side of your jaw and connect the temporal bones of the skull to the lower jaw bone (mandible.) Like a sliding hinge, the TMJ joint—and ligaments and muscles connected to it—allow the jaw to move three ways: side to side, up and down, and forward and back.

Three-dimensional movement of the TMJ makes this one of the most complex joints in the body.  Genetics, misalignment, disease, or injury can lead to TMJ disorders, a group of conditions that remain under-researched at this time. What we do know is how to offer people with TMJ disorders some relied. symptoms are generally temporary and respond well to nonsurgical treatments.

What Causes TMJ Pain?

TMJ disorders have a wide range of possible causes. Some common causes and risk factors include:

Signs and Symptoms of TMJ Disorders

Now, let’s talk about that clicking you hear every time you chew. Is that a TMD? Possibly. Here are the top signs and symptoms associated with TMJ disorders:

  • Jaw pain/stiffness
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Chronic headaches
  • Limited jaw movement (jaw locking)
  • Pain, pressure, and/or ringing in the ears
  • A bite that appears or feels “off”
  • Grating and/or clicking when opening and closing the mouth

TMD Symptoms Often Extend Beyond the Jaw

While you may not initially connect your jaw pain to symptoms in another part of your body, many patients with TMJ disorders experience comorbid health conditions.  According to the TMJ Association, 85% of people with TMJ disorders have pain and non-pain conditions including allergies, sleep disorders, and connective tissue disorders. Symptoms can also be linked to neck and inner ear conditions.

If you are experiencing symptoms, you should consider seeing not only your dentist, but also inquire about seeing your primary healthcare provider or physical therapist for a comprehensive team-based approach to treating all of your symptoms.

TMJ Exercises to Reduce Pain

According to the National Institutes of Health, experts recommend starting with conservative, reversible treatments for TMJ disorder symptoms, stating that the “most common joint and muscle problems are temporary and do not get worse.” These TMJ pain relief exercises and stretches take just a few moments—and you can do them in the comfort of your own home.

1.Chin Tucks

Start in a standing or seated position with your shoulders back and chest forward. Pull your neck and chin back to create a “double chin.” Hold this position for five seconds. Repeat 10 times.

2.Tongue Lifts

Place your tongue so it touches the roof of your mouth. Now, slowly open and close your mouth. Repeat 10 times.

3. Jaw Side-to-Side Slide

For this exercise, you need a small object that approximately ¼ inch thick. A tongue depressor works well. Gently bite down on the object with your two front teeth. Now, move your move your jaw slowly from side to side. Slide your jaw to both sides 10 times. When that becomes too easy, you can increase the thickness of the object.

5.Resisted Mouth Opening

Place two fingers under your chin and apply gentle pressure as you slowly open your mouth. Hold this position for three to five seconds before closing your mouth. Repeat 10 times.

6. Resisted Mouth Closing

Place your thumbs under your chin. Place your index fingers between the ridge of your mouth and the bottom of your chin. Use your fingers and thumb to apply gentle pressure downwards on your chin as you close your mouth. Hold for five seconds and repeat 10 times.

Other Interventions for TMJ Pain

In addition to the TMJ exercises described above, try eating soft foods for a few days and applying ice or heat on your sore jaw. Medication, deep-breathing, and other stress-reduction techniques can reduce tension in your jaw, neck, and shoulders. If you tend to grind your teeth when you sleep, try an over-the-counter mouthguard, or see your dentist about getting custom fitted for one.

Physical therapy is also beneficial because therapists are trained to treat the underlying musculoskeletal conditions contributing to TMJ dysfunction.  Posture improvement, relaxation exercises, and joint mobilization and stabilization are just a few techniques that can ease your tight and painful jaw.

If your symptoms don’t improve after a few days of TMJ exercises and self-care, or you start to feel worse, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider and schedule a physical therapy screening for TMJ. Visit this link to find a physical therapy clinic near you. 

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