Your doctor says it all the time: exercise makes you healthier and relieves pain. Do you have back pain? Try yoga. Do your legs feel stiff? Try running. Want to be skinner? Weight lifting is the way to go. In this fast moving world where we seem not to be moving at all, except when we get up from our desks, exercise seems to be the answer to many of our problems. While it’s true that exercise doesn’t cure everything, when it comes to jaw pain, frequent headaches, and lockjaw, it can actually do quite a bit.

Temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ is caused by an imbalance in the muscles, bones, and joints that help your jaw function. Because this system is complex, relying on muscles that stretch from your neck and into your back, TMJ can cause an array of symptoms that can be incredible disruptive. According to a study produced in 2010, certain jaw exercises may be able to relieve some of these symptoms.

The Evidence

Published in the Journal of Dental research in 2010, the study assigned fifty-two participants joint mobilization exercises and recorded the outcome according to a set of four variables. These variables were related to mouth-opening range with and without pain, maximum daily pain intensity, and limitation of daily functions. The results found that these outcomes were significantly improved from these exercises, demonstrating their therapeutic efficacy.

Before You Start Exercising

Although exercise can be beneficial, it can also be damaging. Just as it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before you start a new exercise routine–especially if you have pain–it’s important to talk to a dentist before starting jaw exercises. Make sure you are talking to a dentist who is actually trained in jaw disorders–a neuromuscular dentist is a good choice.

Don’t start exercises before your dentist clears you. If your jaw joint is imbalanced or damaged, exercises could lead to joint damage. It’s also important to pay attention to your symptoms. If your symptoms start to get worse when you’re exercising, stop immediately and contact a dentist.

Jaw Rotation Exercises

Jaw rotation exercises are a popular rehabilitation exercises for those suffering from TMJ. There are two variations: side-to-side, and back-to-front. To perform the side-to-side exercises, you’ll need a quarter-inch object to place between your teeth. Softly clamp down, then roll your from one side to another, gradually increasing the thickness of the object for more difficulty. Back-to-front exercises are performed in a similar way. With a quarter-inch object clamped between your teeth, slowly stretch your jaw forward then back.

Resistance Training for Your Mouth

If you regularly lift weights, chances are you’ve heard of resistance training — which generally involves a resistance band that makes exercises more difficult. These are very similar. To perform this exercises, place your thumb lightly under your chin, offering your jaw resistance while trying to open your mouth. Do this ten times before inverting the exercise by opening your mouth, grabbing your chin, and offering resistance for the other way.

Jaw Chin-Up

Think of this as not lifting yourself above a bar but lifting your chin to the sky. Put your hands behind your back, activate your shoulders by pulling downward, and point your chin high into the air, holding this position for twenty seconds before doing the inverse, pointing your chin as low as possible.

Try these exercises regularly to relieve TMJ pain. It also may be helpful to schedule an appointment with your dentist for a TMJ consultation. Treatments such as mouth splints have also been known to lower pain.

Dr. Adam Hahn in Columbia, SC has experience helping people with all stages and types of TMJ. They can help you, too. Please call (803) 781-9090 or email Smile Columbia Dentistry today to schedule an appointment with either of our dentists.