Physical Therapy Exercises for TMJ Pain

Physical therapy exercises for TMJ pain are considered a frontline treatment.  Just like with other orthopedic systems, the use of physical therapy can greatly improve temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain symptoms and restore TMJ function. Recent evidence-based studies on TMJ physical therapy indicate that it brings reliable improvement in pain and range of motion. Here we review the science of how TMJ exercises work, present the different styles of TMJ exercises, and show how they fit into a comprehensive program for jaw pain relief.

How Do TMJ Exercises Work?

There are several theories as to how TMJ exercises achieve their well-documented beneficial effect. Here’s a summary of the current thinking:

  • TMJ exercises increase jaw strength and motor coordination, leading to improved functioning.
  • Jaw stretching and strengthening can induce the release of natural endorphins, bringing jaw pain relief (called “exercise-induced analgesia”).
  • TMJ exercises stimulate the immune system to release chemical mediators that facilitate healing and reduce pain.
  • Jaw exercises can improve serotonin release and regulation. This helps normalize the serotonin dysfunction found in chronic pain disorders.
  • Jaw stretching reduces local tissue inflammation and can help remodel damaged TMJ connective tissue.

Furthermore, TMJ physical therapy can actually help rewire the circuits in your brain that are responsible for pain signaling. “Perhaps the biggest advantage of TMJ exercises is that if they are consistently and frequently used, they can retrain dysfunctional neural pathways in the jaw and brain. This interrupts the pain cycle and restores harmonious function to the TMJ system”, explains Bradley Eli, DMD, MS, an orofacial pain specialist.

Physical Therapy Exercises For TMJ Pain

The primary goal of TMJ physical therapy exercises is to increase the range of motion of the joint, strengthen and normalize jaw muscle function, and reduce jaw pain. Sometimes these exercises must be tailored to specific needs, like when there are disc issues, severe joint derangement, or arthritic degeneration. If you are not sure what kind of TMJ disorder you have, you should consider seeing a TMJ specialist.

The most common source of chronic TMJ pain is related to the jaw muscles. That’s why therapeutic exercises work so well as a first-line approach. There are three main categories of TMJ exercises:

  • Strength Exercises: These focus on strengthening weakened jaw muscles and improving motor coordination.
  • Stretching Exercises: These are designed to increase jaw range of motion, remodel damaged connective tissue, and reduce pain.
  • Posture Exercises: These work on the resting tone of the muscles. They aim to minimize muscle tension and reduce muscle fatigue.

It is optimal to choose a physical therapy program that addresses each of these components. One such program is called “Jaw RxErcises”, outlined in the attachment below. It includes strengthening, stretching, and postural tone exercises that are gentle and easy to do. The program is designed to be used throughout the day, a feature that helps to retrain your jaw muscles and brain to relax.

Jaw Pain Relief

While TMJ physical therapy exercises are considered front-line therapy, it is optimal to use them in conjunction with other conservative therapies. This multimodal approach to treating jaw pain will include the following elements:

  • Jaw Rest: This means adopting a “TMJ Diet” consisting of soft food diet and avoiding foods that are hard or chewy. Stay away from chewing gum too!
  • Heat Therapy: Using heat will improve circulation and increase tissue extensibility. This helps improve the jaw’s range of motion.
  • Oral Splinting: Overnight use of an intraoral device such as the QuickSplint®  anterior bite guard will help unload tense jaw muscles and inhibit jaw clenching.

All of these components and more are included in the Speed2Treat® Home Healing Kit. The kit is designed to give you everything you need for a comprehensive and non-pharmacologic approach to treating jaw pain. Start your journey towards jaw pain relief today with the Speed2Treat® Home Healing Kit!

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