Updated on February 28, 2024
7 min read

TMJ Exercises for Pain Relief

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10 Best TMJ Exercises to Relieve Pain & Discomfort

Certain exercises may provide relief from TMJ pain or discomfort. 

Because people can suffer from different types of TMD, experiment with different exercises to determine which ones are the most effective for you. Like any exercise, it’s important not to push yourself too hard, as this can cause more harm than good. 

Medically accurate 3d render of TMJ or the temporomandibular joints and muscles

Here are the most effective exercises for TMJ pain:

1. Relaxed Jaw Exercise

Place your tongue against the top of your mouth, with the tip resting just behind your upper teeth.

Allow your mouth to open, deliberately relaxing the muscles of the jaw. Repeat frequently.

2. Active Jaw Stretching 

Open your mouth as wide as possible. Hold that position for about 10 seconds, ensuring a good stretch. Then, move your jaw left and right, holding each position for about 3 seconds. 

Finally, move your jaw in circles, left-to-right and right-to-left. Repeat this exercise 5 times.

3. Goldfish Exercises

Rest your tongue against the roof of your mouth while placing a finger against the TMJ. Place another finger on your chin. Drop your lower jaw halfway or all the way, then close it.

Repeat this 6 times per session, 6 sets per day.

4. Chin Tuck

Pull your chin back towards your neck, creating a double chin. Hold this position for 5 seconds. Complete 5 repetitions.

5. Tongue Stretch 

Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Slowly open and close your mouth. Open your mouth wide enough to feel the stretch in your tongue.

Repeat this process for the next 5 minutes.

6. Forward Jaw Movement (with object)

Place a ¼ inch object between your front teeth and move your jaw forward. As the movement gets easier, increase the size of the object you use.

7. Lateral Jaw Movement (with object)

Place a ¼ inch object between your front teeth and move your jaw slowly from side to side. Gradually increase the size of the object as you progress.

8. Passive Jaw Stretching

Use your thumb and index fingers to open your jaw as wide as possible. You should feel a slight stretch. 

Hold the position for 10 seconds. Repeat this process 5 times. 

10. Neck Stretch 

Bend your neck forward and backward. Then turn your head to the left and right. 

Finally, bend your neck left and right so each ear touches your shoulders. 

How Long Does it Take for TMJ Exercises to Work?

When you first do these exercises, your pain may initially get worse. However, it’s a normal response and isn’t a cause for alarm.

It will take time for your jaw to get used to the range of motion. The exercises are also forcing your TMJ tissues to get stronger.

Your TMJ pain should subside within 2 to 3 weeks. After that point, you should be able to open and close your jaw without discomfort.

Other Ways to Relieve TMJ Discomfort

Exercises aren’t the only way to manage TMJ pain or discomfort. You can also try:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Mouthguards to prevent damage to your teeth/muscle pain if you grind or clench your teeth
  • Icing the jaw for 15 minutes
  • Warm compresses
  • Mindfulness or stress management activities
  • Acupuncture or dry needling
  • Soft food diet, including avoidance of chewing gum 

Some severe cases of TMD may require surgery, though doctors will only recommend that as a last resort.

What is the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the lower part of your jaw, called the mandible, to your skull. It’s a hingelike joint vital for talking, yawning, chewing, and swallowing.

TMJ: The temporomandibular joints. Healthy occlusion anatomy. Medically accurate 3D illustration of human teeth and dentures concept

The TMJ and the muscles attached to it allow the jaw to move up and down, sideways, and front-to-back. 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.

Many people experience pain or discomfort in their TMJ. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD) causes symptoms like:

  • Pain in the jaw, neck, and surrounding muscles
  • Clicking or popping when you move your jaw
  • Stiff or locked jaw
  • Headaches

Approximately 5 to 12% of people are affected by TMD.4

Risk Factors for TMJ Pain

What causes TMJ pain isn’t always clear. However, certain factors may increase your likelihood of developing TMD or TMJ pain and discomfort. 

These risk factors include:1,7

  • Having arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis
  • Jaw injury or head trauma, often from contact sports
  • Bruxism (excessive teeth grinding or clenching)
  • Stress
  • Bad posture
  • Age (those between ages 20 and 40 are most vulnerable)
  • Some prescription medications and illegal narcotics

What Not to Do if You Have TMJ Pain

If you are experiencing jaw pain, you should refrain from doing the following:

Grinding or Clenching Your Teeth

Also known as bruxism, grinding or clenching your teeth can inflame your TMJ tissues and prevent proper healing. It may also cause headaches and muscle pain in your neck.

Wear a nightguard if you grind or clench your teeth while sleeping. 

Non-Nutritive Chewing

Many people chew absent-mindedly on objects like pens while doing other things. They may also be in the habit of chewing gum for long periods of time.

Excessive chewing can make your TMJ pain worse. It stresses the masticator muscles in the face, causing inflammation.

Avoid chewing on anything other than food to see if it relieves your discomfort. Additionally, ensure that you’re chewing on both sides of your mouth so as not to overwork one TMJ.

Resting Your Chin in Your Hands

It’s common to rest your jaw in your hands or on a flat surface while working or studying. This habit can place pressure on the disk in your TMJ, which may lead to pain or discomfort.

Evaluate your posture and adjust it so that you aren’t applying any necessary pressure to your jaw.

Bad Posture

Engaging in poor posture is a risk factor for developing TMJ pain. 

If you frequently sit for work, optimize your ergonomics so you’re not worsening the discomfort. If you use a computer frequently, ensure it’s placed directly in front of you, so you don’t have to turn your head.

Eating Hard or Crunchy Foods

Hard or crunchy foods like chips, apples, or carrots can aggravate your TMJ pain. Chewing them takes more work from your jaw.

Consider switching to soft foods and liquids to give your masticator muscles a rest.

When to See a Doctor for TMJ Pain

See a doctor if you have been doing daily exercises for 2 to 3 weeks and still feel TMJ pain. Ongoing or severe TMJ pain is a possible sign of TMD.2

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 need to see a dentist or a TMJ specialist for treatment. Treatment for TMD depends on the severity but sometimes requires surgery.

When is Professional Treatment Necessary?

TMJ pain often goes away on its own. If your symptoms persist for weeks or months or become severe, your doctor may recommend professional treatment.

Professional treatments for TMJ pain and TMD include:

  • Medications — Your doctor may prescribe pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, or muscle relaxants to manage your symptoms.
  • Appliances — Professional mouthguards and oral splints may be more effective than appliances you can buy over the counter.
  • Physical therapy — A physical therapist will assess your jaw and demonstrate exercises. They might also use other therapies, like heat or ice.
  • Injections — Corticosteroid or Botox injections into the joint may provide pain relief for some people.
  • Surgery — Doctors will only consider surgery if your symptoms are severe and do not respond to more conservative treatments. Surgery is an invasive and expensive option.

Outlook for TMD and TMJ Pain

The outlook for TMJ pain and disorders depends on what’s causing the condition.

If your pain results from a chronic issue like arthritis, you will likely need long-term management. If the cause is an acute injury, your pain may resolve once the injury has healed.

When it doesn’t have a serious underlying cause, TMJ pain will typically resolve after a few weeks. Jaw exercises and treatment might help.


The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a hingelike joint connecting your lower jaw to your skull. Many people experience pain or discomfort in the TMJ. 

Several at-home exercises can help resolve TMJ pain. Typically the pain will resolve after a few weeks of performing the exercises regularly. If not, you may need to seek professional treatment from a doctor.

Risk factors that increase your chances of experiencing TMJ pain include chronic conditions like arthritis, injury to the jaw or head, and bad posture.

Last updated on February 28, 2024
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 28, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Gauer, R., et al. “Diagnosis and Treatment of Temporomandibular Disorders.” American Family Physician, American Academy of Family Physicians, 2015.
  2. Ibi, M. “Inflammation and Temporomandibular Joint Derangement.” Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin, National Library of Medicine, 2019.
  3. Preventing Trismus After Treatment for Head and Neck Cancer.” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 2023.
  4. Prevalence of TMJD and its Signs and Symptoms.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, 2018.
  5. TMJ Disorders.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2017.
  6. TMJ Exercises.” Oxford University Hospitals, NHS Trust, 2015.
  7. Santiago-Rosado, L., et al.  “Trismus.” StatPearls Publishing, National LIbrary of Medicine, 2021.
  8. TMJ Disorders.” Southeastern Pennsylvania Oral Surgery and MyAdvice, 2023.
  9. Wu, V., et al. “Radiation‐induced temporomandibular joint disorder in post‐radiotherapy nasopharyngeal carcinoma patients: assessment and treatment.” Journal of Medical Radiation Sciences, National Library of Medicine, 2016.
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