Ever experience painful clicking, stiffness, and/or discomfort when opening and closing your mouth? You may be experiencing temporomandibular joint dysfunction syndrome. In some capacity, this malady affects up to 20 percent of the population. Luckily, by correcting disruptive behaviors and performing the right exercises, you can get your jaw back in action (minus the discomfort) in no time!
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is composed of the mandible (jawbone) and the temporal bone of your skull. This joint is capable of both hinging up and down, as well as sliding left to right. All of this movement makes it susceptible to instability. TMJ dysfunction (TMJD) is an umbrella term for many different types of pain that affect this joint.
Patients complaining of TMJD have an aching pain in their jaw, usually most evident with mastication (chewing). Clicking, which may continue after the acute pain subsides, can be associated with this discomfort. In some cases the range of motion of the jaw is restricted due to the joint locking into place.
TMJD often occurs when the jaw is forced to repeatedly hinge and unhinge more than its capability. If this occurs, the joint stops moving in the regular up-and-down plane, and instead moves side to side unevenly. In this scenario, when the jaw is “untracked,” a clicking noise is audible when the muscles try to pull the jaw open and shut while chewing. This clicking is often associated with pain.
There are several reasons for TMJD. One possible reason is muscular weakness. If the muscles of the jaw aren’t strong enough to accommodate the force necessary to chew food, the joint becomes overworked. Another potential reason is poor posture. Studies indicate that poor neck alignment can contribute to improper movement patterns while chewing. In short, slouching, both at dinner and throughout the day, can contribute to exacerbation of symptoms.
- Eat healthy! Avoid artificial foods that are difficult to chew and break apart.
- De-stress! Everyday tension associated with work and family causes mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. It is not uncommon to “hold” tension in the jaw by clenching the jaw. This clenching can lead to stiffness that potentially leads to pain. To avoid this issue, start by adding a simple breathing exercise into your life 1 to 3 times a day. Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 1 count, and exhale for 6 counts. Do this 10 times. Set your phone alarm to remind you to practice this technique.
- Drool. Take time throughout the day to check in with how your jaw feels. If it is tight, try dropping your tongue down to the bottom of your mouth and allowing your jaw to drop low, as if you were drooling. Once you feel that sense of heaviness and relaxation, close your mouth and go about your day! Practice “drooling” at least 3 times a day.
- Stand tall. Healthy posture potentially alleviates any excessive pressure on your jaw. To stand tall, ground your feet by pressing the bases of the toes and your heels into the earth, create length in the space between your hips and your ribs, open your collarbones wide, and reach the tips of your shoulder blades down your back.
- Cut it up to chew it up. Cut your food into small pieces. The smaller the pieces, the easier it is for your teeth to break the food apart, causing less potential stress on your jaw. Additionally, food that is chewed thoroughly increases the efficiency of your overall digestion.
- Slow down. Eating a meal is a marathon, not a sprint. Cut one piece of your food and place it in your mouth, put down your utensils, chew the food until the consistency changes, and swallow. Repeat this process throughout your meal. Not only will this keep your jaw from hurting from chewing too much too fast, but it will also make you eat only the amount your body needs, which is almost always less than you imagine!
Follow the exercises below.
1. Open your mouth slowly while resisting the motion with your thumb.
2. Close your mouth slowly whole resisting the motion with your thumb.
3. Repeat 15 times, 3 times a day.
1. Make a fist with your right hand and place it on the right side of your jaw.
2. Push the right hand against the jaw to move it left, and allow the jaw to push toward the hand to the right. Repeat on the other side.
3. Repeat 15 times, 3 times a day.
1. Tuck your chin toward your chest to make many chins.
2. Hold for 5 seconds.
3. Repeat 25 times, 5 times a day.