3 TMJ physical therapy exercises that can help ease your jaw pain

TMJ Physical Therapy Exercises

Many people experience jaw pain at least once in their life, but consistent pain in the jaw joint is called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. Unfortunately, about 25% of people are diagnosed with a TMJ disorder that leads to pain and inflammation. 

Many cases of TMJ dysfunction are caused by overly tight jaw muscles. As a result, stretching these muscles can help reduce the pain and realign your jaw joint. Specific TMJ physical therapy exercises can help you restore your jaw mobility and ease your symptoms over time.

What is TMJ dysfunction?

The tissue surrounding your jaw joint — including muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments — work together to move your jaw forward and back, up and down, and side to side. However, if you frequently overstretch your jaw or grind your teeth, your jaw can become stiff and painful over time and can even affect connected body parts like your shoulders. If you have TMJ dysfunction, your symptoms may include: 

  • Chronic headaches.
  • Ear pain or pressure. 
  • Pain in your neck and shoulders.
  • Limited movement or locking of your jaw.
  • A “popping” or grating sound when moving your jaw. 

TMJ dysfunction symptoms can be caused by teeth grinding, arthritis, stress, overextension and injury. These causes can damage your jaw tissue, leading to swelling and inflammation that limits movement. Family history can also play a part in you developing TMJ symptoms as you get older. 

3 TMJ physical therapy exercises that can help ease jaw pain

If your TMJ dysfunction pain is prolonged and consistent, physical therapy exercises may be able to help relieve your symptoms. You can try the below stretches and exercises to strengthen your jaw, reduce inflammation, and prevent further damage. 

  •   Temporalis muscle stretch

The temporalis muscle is one of your jaw muscles that allows you to crush and grind food between your molars. This muscle is located on the side of your head and runs behind and in front of your ears. When this muscle is too tight, it can pull on your jaw joint and cause misalignment and pain. Physical therapists may recommend a TMJ physical therapy exercise called the temporalis muscle stretch to reduce tightness in this muscle. 

To begin stretching both temporalis muscles, perform the following steps: 

  1. Sit in a stable chair with a neutral spine and good head and neck posture. 
  2. Place the heels of your hands on your head in front of your ears.
  3. Slowly open your mouth as wide as you can. At the same time, gently push upward on the temporalis muscle with the heels of your hands. 
  4. Try to hold this stretch for about three seconds, and then return to the starting position. Your goal should be to complete a total of 10 repetitions of this stretch.
  5.   Masseter muscle stretch

Another muscle that can benefit from TMJ physical therapy strengthening exercises is the masseter muscle. The masseter is located right in front of the TMJ between the cheekbone and lower jaw, and it helps pull the lower jaw up as you chew. Excess tension in this muscle can lead to TMJ dysfunction, and the masseter muscle stretch is an exercise physical therapists may suggest to decrease this tension. 

To stretch your masseter muscle, you should: 

  1. Sit with good posture in a stable chair. 
  2. Locate the masseter muscles by clenching your jaw. Doing so will allow you to place the heels of your hands on these muscles. 
  3. Open your jaw slowly while pushing up on the masseter muscles with your hands. At first, you might not be able to open your jaw fully without feeling pain. Simply open your jaw as far as you’re able to. 
  4. After holding the stretch for about three seconds, slowly return to the starting position. Continue to repeat the stretch until you’ve done 10 repetitions.
  5.   Forward jaw movement

While there are several TMJ exercises and stretches you can use to strengthen your jaw joint, the forward jaw movement exercise can help encourage your jaw to stay in place — especially if it often shifts or locks in an uncomfortable position. To reap the benefits of a forward jaw movement exercise, practice the following steps:

  1. Look for a clean, sanitary object with a width of about a quarter inch. This can be a couple of tongue depressors. 
  2. Once you have your object handy, place it between your lower and upper front teeth.
  3. Slide your lower jaw forward until your bottom teeth sit in front of your top teeth. Hold this position for 20 seconds.
  4. Over time, this exercise will get easier. You should increase the thickness of the object between your teeth over time.

In addition to the above stretches, physical therapists can ease your jaw pain through a variety of manual therapy techniques like soft tissue mobilization. 

Find more TMJ physical therapy exercises and other helpful treatments at Armor Physical Therapy

At Armor Physical Therapy, TMJ physical therapy exercises are just one tool we can use to help treat your TMJ dysfunction. We offer free screenings that are designed to help us learn how your condition is affecting you. Gathering this information then allows us to build you a personalized treatment plan for you, which can include beneficial therapy techniques like: 

Are you ready to take the next step to start getting our help for your TMJ pain? Contact us today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.

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