10 Ways to Manage TMJ Pain: Best Exercises, Management Tips, and Professional Treatment
Relieve your TMJ pain.
If you’ve experienced jaw pain, you likely know how quickly it can take the enjoyment out of a delicious meal or cool your interest in an otherwise engaging conversation. Your jaw helps you eat, speak, and even swallow, so when it’s in pain, dozens of everyday actions often become incredibly painful. The good news is there’s a wide range of treatments that can offer relief, many of which you can try at home for little to no money.
Here are 10 tips on how you can manage your jaw pain at home, including the best exercises for you to try, as well as what professional treatment options may be necessary if home care doesn’t pan out.
1. Avoid triggering your TMJ pain.
One of the simplest steps you can take to reduce your TMJ pain is to simply avoid any actions that might trigger a flare-up, such as putting too much strain on your jaws. In addition to sticking to softer foods and avoiding chewy or hard foods, you should avoid opening your mouth too wide. Try not to yawn widely, and avoid meals that require you to take wide bites, like giant burgers. Chewing gum or propping your face against your hand can also put too much unnecessary strain on your jaw, so try to drop these habits to give your jaw a break from the strain. You should also try to pay attention to any other actions that seem to trigger your jaw pain and stay away from them.
2. Apply moist heat or ice packs.
Moist heat and ice therapy can be useful for both jaw pain and its related muscle aches. You can play around with heat and ice and see which works best for you. In general, moist heat, such as from a warm, damp cloth, is best at relaxing tight or stiff muscles, while ice is best at reducing inflammation. If you’re using moist heat, be careful not to get the cloth uncomfortably hot; aim for warm instead. You can apply heat or ice for 10 or 15 minutes, but then, you should remove it for at least 30 minutes, as keeping it on too long — especially in the case of ice — can actually make your pain worse once you remove it. You can apply heat or ice several times a day, but be careful not to overdo it.
3. Massage your muscles to release tension.
TMD can cause the muscles around your jaw, neck, and shoulders to work overtime as they try to compensate for the joint, which can cause them to become painful and tight. Massaging your shoulders, neck, and head can lessen your pain by loosening and relaxing your muscles. You can also try gently massaging the jaw muscles next to your ears in small, circular motions to relax them, but don’t do this if it’s painful or aggravates your pain later. You can learn to do this for yourself at home, or you can search for a professional masseuse who has experience working with TMD.
4. Try getting acupuncture for your TMJ pain.
Acupuncture is an ancient treatment that’s been used to treat a wide variety of issues for thousands of years. In modern times, it’s known to be effective at relaxing muscles and treating chronic pain, so it might be worth it to give it a try. Acupuncture generally has a cumulative effect, so you won’t see the full benefits after a single appointment; give it a try for a few weeks before you decide whether or not it’s helping you.
5. Take medication to relieve your symptoms.
When methods like heat and ice aren’t doing the trick on their own, you can add medication to the mix. Try taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medication, such as ibuprofen. If these medications aren’t doing the trick, Dr. Alhadef may be able to prescribe you a muscle relaxer or anti-inflammatory medication while you work on figuring out a long-term solution for your jaw pain.
6. Practice stress management and mindfulness techniques.
If you’re gritting or grinding your teeth a lot due to high stress levels, try using stress-relieving exercises and mindfulness techniques to lower your stress levels. Meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga are all proven to be effective at reducing stress, so you can try different methods until you land on one or two that really work for you. The idea is that reducing your stress will reduce how often you’re clenching or grinding your teeth, which will help resolve your pain.
7. Strengthen your jaw with targeted exercises.
Strengthening your jaw muscles can help your jaw pain in the long run by helping them handle their job better, but only practice strengthening exercises when you’re not currently experiencing a flare-up; if you try them during a flare, you can worsen your pain by putting too much strain on your jaw. You should also be careful not to overdo these exercises, but if you scale them up slowly and carefully, they can help prevent future flare-ups.
Here are a few exercises you can try at home:
- Put your thumb underneath your chin and use firm but gentle pressure to press it upward to provide slight resistance as you slowly open your mouth. After holding this position for up to six seconds, close your mouth slowly.
- Open your mouth and pinch your chin between your thumbs and index fingers with one hand, then exert gentle pressure on your chin as you slowly close your mouth.
8. Use stretching exercises to relax your jaw.
While you shouldn’t overdo these exercises, either, stretching exercises can be useful whether or not you’re experiencing a flare-up. Thankfully, there is a wide range of exercises you can try at home in addition to exercises you can get from a physical therapist.
Here are a few exercises you can try to stretch your jaws:
- Touch your tongue to the palate of your mouth and relax your jaw muscles, allowing your mouth to open slightly.
- Smile as widely as you can without feeling discomfort or tightness, and open your jaw about two inches. While you’re still smiling, take a deep breath through your mouth then exhale while relaxing your facial muscles. You can do this up to ten times.
9. Look into getting a mouth guard or oral splint.
Mouth guards and oral splints are common, incredibly useful treatments for TMD. Mouth guards can be worn at night to prevent you from clenching or grinding your teeth, which is a common cause of TMD, while oral splints can be used to keep your jaw in a comfortable, relaxed position. Dr. Alhadef can find your ideal, most relaxed bite by using a TENS unit to relax your muscles. Once he’s found the right position, he can create a custom orthotic for you that will help relax your jaws. Depending on your individual case, he will tell you how many hours you should wear it each day or night to ease your pain, as well as what steps need to be taken long term to resolve the root issue of your jaw pain.
10. Consider surgery for your TMJ pain as a last option.
Treating TMD with surgery is a little dicey, as it depends heavily upon what the root cause of your joint pain is. Surgical treatments for TMD vary from minimally invasive surgeries, like irrigating the joint with fluid to remove debris, to major surgery, like open-joint surgery. It’s important to understand, however, that surgery for TMD is rarely a magic fix; in addition to the pain caused by the surgery itself, many patients who require surgery to correct their TMD continue to struggle with joint pain. Surgical treatments can certainly help reduce pain for patients with major TMD, but because of the pain the surgery itself can cause, it’s best to ensure that it’s the only option; and that means trying less invasive methods, such as physical therapy and oral splints, first.
While it may feel like your TMJ pain is ruling your life, there’s a wide range of treatments you and Dr. Alhadef can try. Finding the right treatment for you may take a little trial and error, but it’s possible for you to live a pain-free life. If you’re ready to start the process today, you can call our office to schedule a consultation with Dr. Alhadef at any time.