Everything You Need to Know About TMJ Jaw Pain

Written by Joint Ventures Physical Therapy

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Maybe you notice a clicking in your jaw, especially when eating. Or you wake up after a night of sleep and find your jaw and the surrounding area are sore. Perhaps you tend to clench your jaw during stressful situations. All these things can lead to jaw pain, or temporomandibular disorder (TMJ).

However, the exact cause is frequently hard to determine. Genetic factors, lifestyle factors, arthritis, or injury to the jaw may all play a role when it comes to problems with the TMJ. Even poor posture may impact and be the primary cause of jaw pain.

The TMJ, also known as the temporomandibular joint, is a hinge joint that attaches your jaw to your skull. About 5-12% of people experience pain in this area, which means you aren’t alone.

Yet, the majority of cases are easily dealt with via lifestyle changes or TMJ exercises prescribed by a physical therapist. Let’s take a closer look at physical therapy for TMJ disorders.

What Does TMJ Physical Therapy Involve?

Your physical therapist will perform a thorough assessment regarding your jaw pain. They will take measurements regarding range of motion and strength, and they may further perform various tests to find out what exactly is going on before starting TMJ physical therapy treatment.

At each appointment, they may also prescribe a set of clicking jaw exercises or other targeted exercises for you to work on. And yes, most of the exercises for TMJ pain may feel a little bit goofy. But, these goofy exercises are what will resolve your jaw pain once and for all.

So, what TMJ exercises can you expect during physical therapy?

Practice Relaxing Your Jaw in Physical Therapy

This simple TMJ physical therapy exercise is particularly useful for teeth grinders or jaw clenchers. Place your tongue behind your top teeth on the roof of your mouth. Allow your mouth and jaw to relax, letting your teeth come apart. Hold here for about 5-10 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times and perform this jaw exercise for TMJ pain 2-3 times per day.

Strengthen Your Neck Flexors as a Jaw Exercise for TMJ

Everything in the body is connected. With the neck nearby to the TMJ, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that weak muscles in this area may be contributing to your jaw pain.

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To begin strengthening your deep neck flexors in the course of TMJ physical therapy treatment, lay on your back and perform chin tucks. You may choose to roll a towel and place it under your neck for comfort.

Bring your chin towards your chest, without allowing the back of the head to come up off the ground or bed. The sides of your neck should be relaxed. You want to be using the small but deep muscles in the front of your neck to perform this movement. Hold your chin towards your chest for 5 seconds to start. Perform 10-12 repetitions and do this TMJ stretching exercise 2-3 times a day.

Work on Resisted Mouth Opening and Closing in TMJ Physical Therapy

Here’s another exercise often conducted during physical therapy for TMJ disorders. Close your mouth and place your first under your chin. Use your fist to gently resist as you open your mouth. Go slow. Place your fingers on the top of the chin and slowly but gently resists closing your mouth on the way back up. Do this exercise for TMJ pain 5-8 times, 2-3 times per day.

Other Ways to Combat Your Jaw Pain to Complement Physical Therapy Exercises for TMJ

In addition to TMJ exercises and jaw physical therapy techniques, you can also use at-home remedies to help relieve your pain. These include:

  • Mouth guards: These may be found at your local pharmacy for teeth grinding or jaw clenching. Depending on what is causing your jaw pain, you may need a specialized mouth guard to help realign your jaw. These are often provided by a dentist or oral expert.
  • Ice: Apply ice for 10-15 minutes at a time. It may help reduce your pain while you get treatment for it.
  • Stress management techniques: If stress is a major part of your jaw pain, find stress relieving activities or techniques. Breathing exercises or relaxation techniques have helped many individuals get rid of their jaw pain once and for all. Clicking jaw exercises can also be a great way to relieve pain from stress-related jaw pain.
  • Lifestyle changes: Avoid eating chewy foods like bubble gum or well done steak and avoid opening your mouth wide. A good rule of thumb is to keep your tongue touching the rough of your mouth whenever you open your mouth such as yawning. This will prevent TMJ clicking from occurring.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture is the insertion of small needles that cause localized pain relief via the release and stimulation of endorphins. It’s been shown to work for some individuals, but not for all.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication: Over-the-counter medication may be used for temporary pain relief. However, avoid habitually using these drugs for more than 10 days at a time. Many of these medications may cause gastrointestinal issues and other health problems with long-term usage.

Find a TMJ Physical Therapist Near You

Chronic jaw pain may not disappear on its own. Yet, with the help of a PT, you have a professional there to help guide you through every step of TMJ physical therapy treatment. Using the BetterPT website or mobile app, you can easily find a physical therapist specializing in TMJ pain near you. And with direct access for physical therapy, you no longer require a prescription from a physician to start your physical therapy treatment. Search for a TMJ physical therapist today, and begin your journey toward a life free of jaw pain.

Joint Ventures Physical Therapy and Fitness provides 1-on-1 Physical Therapy with licensed Physical Therapists without the use of aides, assistants or students. The founders' vision of a new, technologically advanced clinic, with old school, interpersonal values, has come to fruition in Joint Ventures Physical Therapy and Fitness.

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