Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Exercises

TMJ pain is a common problem for many individuals.

For some, this pain is transient, but unfortunately for others, it can linger. These exercises may bring some relief. Further interventions may also be recommended to sufferers if these do not provide enough relief. Speak to your dentist if you require further support.

Background information

Your temporomandibular joints (TMJ) is one of the most commonly used joints in your skull. The joints connect your jawbone to your skull. Your TMJ is engaged each time you swallow, chew, and talk.

Temporomandibular disorders occur when something has affected your jaw joints and jaw muscles. Often, this happens because of overuse while unknowingly grinding your teeth while you sleep. Other causes could be if you have had a jaw injury or inflammation, such as with arthritis.

TMJ disorders may cause mild to debilitating symptoms as:

  • pain in the ear, face, jaw, and neck
  • grating or clicking sounds when you open and close your mouth
  • locking of the jaw joint once your mouth is open
  • discomfort or pain while chewing
  • mild to severe headaches

Exercises for TMJ pain relief

These exercises may offer permanent or temporary pain relief as they can strengthen and stretch jaw muscles, relax jaw tension or increase joint mobility. Your dentist may massage or manually manipulate your jaw to stretch and strengthen muscles as part of diagnosis and treatment. You may also be asked to complete the following exercises at home.

Relaxed jaw exercise

  • Rest your tongue gently on the roof of your mouth behind your upper front teeth.
  • Allow your teeth to come apart while relaxing your jaw muscles.
  • Open your mouth to a comfortable size and repeat.

Chin tuck movements

  • Sit or stand with your shoulders, back and chest in an upright position.
  • Pull your chin straight back and down toward the chest, creating a “double chin.”
  • Hold for 3 seconds and repeat 10 times.

Partial Mouth opening exercises

  • Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
  • Place one finger in front of your ear on your TMJ.
  • Using your other hand, put your pointer finger on your chin.
  • Drop your lower jaw halfway and then close it. There should be mild resistance but not pain.

Alternatively, using two hands, place one finger on each TMJ as you drop your lower jaw halfway and close again.

Full mouth opening exercises

  • Press your tongue on the roof of your mouth
  • Place one finger on your TMJ and another finger on your chin.
  • Relax the jaw and open your mouth while keeping your tongue in place.
  • Open your mouth fully, then close and repeat.

Alternatively, using two hands, place one finger on each TMJ as you completely drop your lower jaw and back. Repeat this exercise 6 times to complete one set. You should complete one set 6 times a day.

Resisted opening of the mouth

  • Place your thumb under your chin.
  • Open your mouth slowly, pushing gently against your chin for resistance.
  • Hold for 3 to 6 seconds, and then close your mouth slowly.
    Repeat 10 times.

Resisted closing of the mouth

  • Squeeze your chin with your index and thumb with one hand.
  • Close your mouth as you place gentle pressure on your chin
  • Repeat 10 times.

Side-to-side jaw movements

  • Place a timber chopstick or paddle pop stick between your front teeth
  • Slowly move your jaw from side to side.
  • Hold for 2–3 seconds at the end of each movement.
  • Repeat 10 times on each side.

As the exercise becomes easier, stack more props on top of each other to increase thickness.

Forward jaw movement

  • Place a timber chopstick or paddle pop stick between your front teeth
  • Move your bottom jaw forward so your bottom teeth are in front of your top teeth.
  • Hold for 2–3 seconds on each side of the movement.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Over time, increase the object’s thickness by stacking more props between your teeth.