We see so many patients who describe jaw pain, jaw clicking or jaw locking. We have decided to publish this blog post to show you some of the common exercises that we regularly prescribe to patients.
What is the TMJ?
The temporo-mandibular joint (or TMJ for short) is the joint which connects the jawbone to the skull. It allows you to laugh, eat, yawn and chew. You have two joints on either side of your face and both temporo-mandibular joints work together to achieve optimal movement of the jaw and mouth. In fact, one of the muscles of your jaw, the masseter, is the strongest muscle in your body (relative to its size).
TMJ pain is common and is an indicator that something is not right. Other common problems that our patients describe is painful clicking, locking and tightness in the jaw. Symptoms can range from mild and not affecting your life very much to very severe and debilitating symptoms which affect your ability to eat, talk, yawn and brush your teeth.
Some people ask us “Do jaw exercises actually work?” and the good news is “Yes – they do!”
In 2010, a study in Journal of Dental Research found that jaw exercises resulted in more mouth opening range than a dental splint alone. So, it’s important to try and keep your jaw moving as best you can when it’s sore. We have included some excellent videos of exercises below.
Remember, if your jaw pain or clicking persists, please see a physiotherapist who is experienced in jaw assessment and treatment. If you are concerned that you are grinding your teeth (this is known as bruxism), or your partner tells you that you are grinding your teeth in your sleep, please see you dentist to ensure your tooth enamel can be protected.
Jaw Strengthening and Relaxation Exercises
Our exercise videos will help re-balance your jaw muscles and strengthen any muscles that might be weak. Try the exercises where you are resisting your own jaw muscles, as this is a safe and effective way to strengthen your jaw.
1. Jaw relaxation exercise
Place your tongue onto the roof of your mouth and allow your mouth to open whilst you relax your jaw muscles as best you can.
2. Chin tucks
Gently tuck your chin downwards like you are nodding “Yes”. You are trying to lengthen the back of your neck here. This exercises strengthens the supportive muscles of the jaw.
3. Goldfish opening exercises
Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Place one finger on your TMJ in front of your ear and another finger on your chin. Open your mouth half way and then close. Try to open in a straight line if you can. You will need a mirror to watch your mouth open. Repeat 6 times and do this three times per day.
4. Resisted mouth opening
Place a fist underneath your chin and gently resist your own mouth opening. Resist this muscle activation for 3-5 seconds and repeat this 3 x per day.
5. Jaw side glides
Gently open your mouth slightly. Place two fingers against the side of your chin and push sideways against your chin. Resist this push with your jaw muscles, so that there is no movement of your chin at all. Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat x 3 in one session.
WARNING: This exercise should make your jaw feel and open better. Or perhaps it will not change your jaw motion very much. It SHOULD NOT make your jaw feel or move worse. If it does, please cease this and see a jaw physiotherapist.
What can cause pain in the jaw?
Pain in the jaw can be caused by several different issues:
a) Locking or malposition of the internal disc
b) Tightness of the muscles of the jaw
c) Referred pain from the neck or base of skull
d) Weakness or imbalance of the muscles of the jaw
Because there are multiple different reasons that your jaw can become sore, it’s important that you see a physiotherapist who is experienced with treating jaw pain to be properly assessed. One thing we commonly see at Active Physiotherapy Newtown is patients who have a combination of reasons, that is, they have referred pain from the neck + imbalance in the jaw. So, it can be tricky and needs proper assessment and treatment.
How to relax your jaw
There’s only one way to relax your jaw – and that is to rest the tongue onto the roof of the mouth. This allows the jaw muscles to soften – it’s important to have the intention of relaxing your strong jaw and throat muscles as best you can. If you have pain in your jaw, your brain might be trying to protect you by clenching these muscles, so don’t be surprised if relaxing those same muscles is harder than you think. Sometimes lying on your back helps relax your jaw, throat and neck muscles.
Self-massage of the outside jaw muscles using some moisturiser cream or light massage oil can really help. Simple rest your elbows on a solid desk or dining table and rest your head in your hands (to relax your jaw and neck muscles). From here work your way gently massaging the outside jaw muscles from lower to upper. Feel free to also massage above your ears in the muscles of your temple and side of head.
We find a lot of our patients with jaw pain have some form of stress in their lives, either when the jaw pain starts or when it is worse. Clearly, stress influences our jaw (which is a neurologically rich area). So, any way you can de-stress will really help your jaw. We know this is easier said than done but meditation is a wonderful way to down-regulate. Staying away from stressful situations / people can also help (though we understand sometimes this is impossible).
What Jaw Pain Management Services we offer in the Sydney CBD and Newtown
At Active Physiotherapy Newtown & CBD, we have several physiotherapists who are highly experienced at treating jaw pain. Our helpful front desk staff will triage you accordingly when you call. We will spend an hour in uninterrupted time with you on your first session, assess your jaw and related areas of the body fully. This will allow us to understand how well (or poorly) you move, and how this relates to your jaw symptoms. We will then discuss our findings with you, so you can understand as much about your symptoms as possible. You will have the chance to ask questions, which we will happily answer. It’s important to us to empower you to move and feel your best.
Once we have determined the cause of your jaw pain or clicking, we will perform our specialised treatment and we will then re-assess to see what effect this treatment has had. From here, we will provide you with exercises like what we have shown on the videos in this blog.
Disclaimer: The advice and exercises presented in this article are general in nature and not intended to replace a full physiotherapy assessment. Please see your physiotherapist to have a full assessment of your jaw to understand your individual needs.