TMJ pain may go away on its own. But specific exercises and other doctor-recommended practices, such as wearing a mouth guard, may help fix the issue sooner.

You may not think about your temporomandibular joints (TMJ) much, but you use them often. The joints connect your jawbone to your skull. Your TMJ springs into action each time you talk, chew, and swallow.

Temporomandibular disorders occur when something affects your jaw joints and jaw muscles. Often, this happens because of a jaw injury, inflammation such as with arthritis, or overuse.

TMJ disorders may cause mild to debilitating symptoms, such as:

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TMJ exercises may relieve pain by:

  • strengthening and stretching jaw muscles
  • relaxing jaw tension
  • increasing TMJ mobility

Doctors may manually manipulate your jaw to stretch and strengthen muscles as part of physical therapy. However, certain home exercises may help relieve TMJ pain and improve the movement of your jaw joints.

Relaxed jaw exercise

  • Rest your tongue gently on the roof of your mouth behind your upper front teeth.
  • Allow your teeth to come apart while relaxing your jaw muscles.
  • Open your mouth to a comfortable size and repeat.

You may experience popping or cracking sounds when opening your mouth fully.

Goldfish exercises (partial opening)

  • Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
  • Place one finger in front of your ear where your TMJ is located.
  • Put your middle or pointer finger on your chin.
  • Drop your lower jaw halfway and then close it. There should be mild resistance but not pain.

A variation of this exercise is to place one finger on each TMJ as you drop your lower jaw halfway and close again.

Goldfish exercises (full opening)

  • Press your tongue on the roof of your mouth
  • Place one finger on your TMJ and another finger on your chin.
  • Relax the jaw and open your mouth while keeping your tongue in place.
  • Open your mouth fully, close, and repeat.

For a variation of this exercise, place one finger on each TMJ as you completely drop your lower jaw and back. Do this exercise six times to complete one set. You should complete one set six times daily.

Chin tucks

  • Sit or stand with your shoulders back and chest up.
  • Pull your chin straight back and down toward the chest, creating a “double chin.”
  • Hold for three seconds and repeat 10 times.

This exercise can stretch the TMJ without opening the mouth, so it can be useful for those with discomfort during jaw movements.

Resisted opening of the mouth

  • Place your thumb under your chin.
  • Open your mouth slowly, pushing gently against your chin for resistance.
  • Hold for three to six seconds, and then close your mouth slowly.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Adding resistance to stretching exercises can help increase muscle strength.

Resisted closing of the mouth

  • Squeeze your chin with your index and thumb with one hand.
  • Close your mouth as you place gentle pressure on your chin.
  • Repeat 10 times.

This will help strengthen the muscles that help you chew.

Side-to-side jaw movement

  • Put a ¼ inch object, such as a stacked tongue depressor, between your front teeth
  • Slowly move your jaw from side to side.
  • Hold for 2–3 seconds at the end of each movement.
  • Repeat 10 times on each side.

As the exercise becomes easier, increase the object’s thickness between your teeth by stacking them one on top of each other.

Forward jaw movement

  • Put a ¼ inch of object between your front teeth.
  • Move your bottom jaw forward so your bottom teeth are in front of your top teeth.
  • Hold for 2–3 seconds on each side of the movement.
  • Repeat 10 times.

As the exercise becomes easier, increase the object’s thickness between your teeth.

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen may help relieve TMJ pain. Muscle relaxers may be prescribed for severe pain. Doctors may also recommend:

  • mouth guards to prevent teeth grinding and jaw clenching
  • mouth guards to help realign your jaw
  • warm or cold compresses
  • stress-relief techniques to help prevent behaviors that cause jaw tension

TMJ pain may also be managed with simple lifestyle changes. You may wish to:

  • avoid clenching your teeth
  • eat a soft diet to allow the TMJ to relax
  • avoid chewing gum
  • avoid biting your nails
  • avoid biting your lower lip
  • practice good posture
  • limit large jaw movements, such as yawning and singing

Severe pain from damaged joints may require more invasive treatments, such as corticosteroid injections into the TMJ. Surgery is a last resort option in many cases but may be the only applicable treatment in cases of tumors and joint fusion.

In some cases, TMJ disorders go away on their own. If your symptoms persist, TMJ exercises may help bring pain relief.

When doing TMJ exercises, start slowly. You may feel some pain at first, but it should be tolerable and gradually improve. If the pain isn’t tolerable, consult your doctor. You should do TMJ exercises when you’re relaxed.

If your pain worsens after doing TMJ exercises, visit your doctor.