The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is where the lower part of your jaw, called the mandible, connects to your skull.
If you place a finger in front of the lower part of your ear and open your mouth, you will feel the TMJ at work.
The TMJ allows the jaw to move up-and-down, sideways, and front-to-back. This makes it vital for talking, yawning, and chewing food.
Muscles also attach to the TMJ, helping it to control the jaw’s position and movement.
The TMJ’s wide field of movement and controlling tissues make it very complex. Because of this, it’s not always easy to diagnose problems.
There are three broad categories of TMJ pain:
Here are some risk factors for TMJ pain:
Here are the best exercises available for TMJ pain:
This exercise is a great way to improve range of motion.
Open your mouth as wide as possible. Hold that position for about ten seconds, being sure to get a good stretch. Then, move your jaw left and right, holding each position for about three seconds.
Finally, move your jaw in circles, left-to-right and right-to-left. Repeat this exercise five times.
Use your thumb and index fingers to open your jaw as wide as you can manually. You should feel a slight stretch here. Hold this position for ten seconds. Repeat this process five times.
Bend your neck forward and backward. Then turn your head to the left and right. Finally, bend your neck left and right so that each ear touches a shoulder.
This is a great way to strengthen the jaw muscles.
Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Then relax your jaw muscles. Let your jaw hang down until you feel your tongue being pulled away. Then hold this position for ten seconds.
Repeat this process for the next five minutes.
Use your thumbs to push your jaw to the left and right. Hold each position for three seconds.
Look down, tucking your chin into your chest. Hold for five seconds. Do five repetitions.
Rest your tongue against the roof of your mouth while placing a finger against the TMJ.
Place another finger or thumb under your chin. Then drop your jaw (if you can’t drop your jaw all the way, just do so partially).
Do this six times per session, six sessions per day.
Place an object one-fourth of an inch between your two front teeth and move your jaw forward. Gradually increase the size of the object as you progress.
When you first do these exercises, your pain may initially get worse.
Don’t be alarmed: this is because your jaw is getting used to the range of motion. The exercises are also forcing your TMJ tissues to get stronger.
Your TMJ pain should subside within two or three weeks. After that point, you should be able to open and close your jaw without trouble.
If you are experiencing jaw pain, you should refrain from doing the following:
If you have been doing daily exercises for two or three weeks and still feel jaw pain, it may be time to see a doctor. TMJ pain is a possible sign of temporomandibular disorder (TMD).2
TMD is a series of problems related to the TMJ which can interfere with your ability to fully open or close your jaw. Approximately 5 to 12% of people are affected by it.4
Your doctor can check for TMD by placing their finger in your ear while you move your jaw. They may also ask questions regarding the pain you feel, such as what might trigger it and how long it lasts.
Depending on the specific cause, you may then need to see a dentist or a TMJ specialist for treatment. Treatment for TMD depends on the severity but it sometimes requires surgery to resolve.
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Ibi, Miho. “Inflammation and Temporomandibular Joint Derangement.” Biological & pharmaceutical bulletin, vol. 42, no. 4, 2019, pp. 538-542. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “Preventing Trismus.” www.mskcc.org.
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. “Prevalence of TMJD and its Signs and Symptoms.” www.nidcr.nih.gov, 2018.
National Institutes of Health. “TMJ Disorders.” www.nidcr.nih.gov, 2017.
Oxford University Hospitals. “TMJ Exercises.” www.ouh.nhs.uk, 2015.
Santiago-Rosado, Livia M. “Trismus.” StatPearls [Internet]., StatPearls Publishing, 2021. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Southeastern Pennsylvania Oral Surgery. “TMJ Disorders.” www.sepaoralsurgery.com/.
Wu, Vincent W.C. “Radiation‐induced temporo‐mandibular joint disorder in post‐radiotherapy nasopharyngeal carcinoma patients: assessment and treatment.” Journal of medical radiation sciences, vol. 63, no. 2, pp. 124-32. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.