The “TMJ” is the joint between the Temporal bone (part of the skull) and Mandible (jaw). Like any joint, the TMJ can become inflamed and irritated leading to pain in the jaw that can radiate into the rest of the face, head, neck and ear. It can also lead to popping, clicking, or difficulty when opening or closing the jaw. TMJ Dysfunction is commonly caused by stress, poor posture, grinding and clenching the teeth, or head and neck trauma; however, other precluding factors involve habits such as excessive gum chewing, nail biting, or mouth breathing.
There are several forms of treatment for TMJ Dysfunction. Successful treatment methods include manual therapy (massage, joint mobilizations) and modalities (heat, ice, TENS), Stretches and strengthening exercises, and postural training to help achieve neutral alignment of the joints involved. Many of these treatments can be done by a physical therapist or chiropractor to avoid surgery or prescription medications.
If you are experiencing TMJ Dysfunction symptoms there are several exercises you can do at home to reduce pain.
1) Rest Position
- Lips together, teeth slightly apart. Place tongue against roof of mouth with slight pressure.
- Breathe through nostrils & use diaphragm for deeper respiration.
2) Controlled TMJ Rotation
- While opening jaw, keep tongue on roof of mouth to limit movement to rotation only.
- May be helpful to perform in the mirror in order to watch for any deviations to either side, especially as you begin to progress motion to full opening of the jaw.
3) Postural Exercises
- Shoulder retraction (squeeze your shoulder blades together by dropping your shoulders down & back)
- Head flexion (think about making a “double chin” by nodding your head slightly)
- Neck extension (think about drawing your ears backwards to align over your shoulders)
-Written by Jamie Rebella Ligon, PT, DPT