Do you suffer from TMJ symptoms, jaw pain, or both? As a board-certified orofacial pain specialist or TMJ doctor, I have many tools at my disposal for patients who suffer from tight, painful jaw muscles. Over the years I’ve recommended (and developed) a number of relaxation techniques and massages for TMJ and jaw muscle pain. If you notice yourself opening and closing your mouth all day long to stretch out your jaw muscles, you probably have a TMJ problem. Try some of these at-home treatments for TMJ and painful jaw muscles.
2 TMJ Relaxation Techniques and Breathing Exercises
Most people with ongoing jaw pain and tightness tend to breathe with shallow chest movements during the day. As a matter of fact, if you suffer from any kind of muscle pain you’re probably already breathing too fast. When you breathe too fast, you create an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body. This sets you up for more even muscle pain and fatigue.
The following techniques will help you slow your breathing and help your muscles relax:
- With your lips lightly touching, place your tongue gently on the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth, or gently against the back of your lower front teeth. Then, bring air in through your nose and extend your belly outward. Hold this for 3 seconds then exhale through your mouth while parting your lips slightly. Repeat 6 times. (You can do this once every hour.)
- With your lips lightly touching, gently place your tongue gently against your lower front teeth, upper front teeth, or just float it in no particular position. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds filling your belly. Then, exhale through your lips or nose for 4 seconds. Pause for 2 seconds. Repeat 6 times over a 1-minute period. This will help you train yourself to slow down your breathing. Perform once every hour whenever you need it.
2 Massages for TMJ and Sore Jaw Muscles
A sore jaw indicates that your jaw muscle health has been compromised and is likely due to the accumulation of an irritating substance that forms in response to muscle overuse, such as lactic acid. The key here is to increase the blood flow to your sore muscles which in turn brings fresh oxygen and nutrients to the affected areas. The Temporalis and the Masseter are the two most important muscles for you to focus on.
- Perform this massage with your mouth hanging slightly open, and your head relaxed: with your index and your middle finger, massage the sore areas in your temporalis and masseter muscles in a circular motion for 6 seconds on the right side, and 6 seconds on the left. If you can, do both sides at the same time. Press firmly, but not so hard that tears come to your eyes. After massaging your muscles, open your mouth to its fullest non-painful position and then close it slowly. Repeat 6 times.
- I find this one is best done in the shower. Open your mouth halfway and place the pad of your index finger on the most rear upper tooth on one side. Then slide your index finger off that tooth and move it toward your cheek in an upward direction. You should run into a wall of bone. That is where your jaw muscle attaches and it is likely to be very tender. Once you’ve found the tender region, push your index finger inward and hold for at least 30 seconds before releasing. Then switch to the other side and repeat. Massage each side 2 times. (You can also move your index finger in a circular pattern instead of maintaining constant pressure.)
3 Exercises for Sore Jaws
- This exercise is designed to release tension in the muscles that enable you to open and close your jaw. Place your tongue as far back as possible on the roof of your mouth. Now, try to open your mouth, keeping your tongue in this position (the range of motion will be very limited). While your tongue remains in place, position your thumb under your chin and attempt to open your mouth against the resistance of your thumb. Maintain this resistance for 3 seconds before releasing. Repeat this 6 times. This exercise can be performed up to 6 times per day.
- Here’s another technique that many of my patients find helpful: blow air into your cheek on one side and hold it for 6 seconds. Then switch to the other side and do the same thing. This can be done 6 times per day.
- You can also do some tongue exercises to loosen your tight jaw muscles. With your lips sealed, move your tongue in a complete circle 6 times to the right and then 6 times to the left. Then take 6 cleansing belly breaths as described above and repeat the tongue movements 2 more times.
If At-Home Treatments For TMJ Don’t Work…
Tight jaw muscles can produce serious pain. If you are suffering, and the above at-home treatments for TMJ don’t work after doing them for over a week, please contact your dentist or an orofacial pain specialist in your area. You can find a provider in your area by going to the American Academy of Orofacial Pain.
Dr. Donald Tanenbaum is a board-certified orofacial pain specialist with offices in New York City and Long Island, NY. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat problems associated with facial pain, TMJ, headaches and sleep apnea.