What is TMJ Dysfunction?
The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is formed by your jaw bone (mandible) and skull (temporal bone). Dysfunction of this joint is common and results in a variety of symptoms. People with TMJ dysfunction may experience: headaches, jaw pain, neck pain, earaches and/or ringing, and at times difficulty opening the mouth. Joint noise such as “clicking or grinding” may also occur.
The causes of TMJ dysfunction vary. Common factors include localized arthritis, injury, occlusal (bite) imbalance, and stress in the form of clenching and/or grinding. Exercises relax the jaw muscles, reduce strain to the TMJ, decrease clenching/grinding, restore normal motion, and increase joint stability (strength).
Specific Exercises for the TMJ
- Normal resting tongue position – Place your tongue against the roof of the mouth as if making a “clucking/clicking” sound. Ideally the front 1/3 of the tongue should rest upwards, just behind the front teeth. This is considered to be the best position for your tongue to help keep the jaw muscles more relaxed.
- Controlled Opening – Place your tongue towards the roof of the mouth (exercise #1 above). Open comfortably without pulling the tongue away from its upward position. This is intended to limit jaw movement and minimize excessive strain to the ligaments and muscles that support the TMJ. This also often helps to decrease joint noise.
- Mandibular Isometrics – This exercise has also been called rhythmic stabilization. The goal is to increase muscular control or strength by a series of contractions. Place the jaw in rest position with slight opening and then lightly push against the lower jaw in six different directions: open, close, right, left, backward, forward – without letting the lower jaw move. Keep the amount of resistance very light.
- Axial Extension of the Cervical Spine – This exercise is used to improve the relationship of the head to cervical spine (neck). It helps to decrease postural stress that could influence the jaw muscles. Tilt the head (eyes) down slightly, complete a gentle chin tuck, then finish with a tiny “nod” of the head without losing the chin tuck position.
If you are experiencing any symptoms associated with TMJ dysfunction, we may be able to help. Contact our clinic today to be evaluated by a TMJ specialist.