TMJ Pain Relief: 8 Best Practices to Help Manage Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

Smiling, laughing, talking, chewing — these all are facial movements you make daily with little to no thought. But, if you have a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), those simple movements may cause you a lot of pain.

“While most TMD symptoms resolve in a few weeks to months, some painful conditions can be aggravated by certain behaviors or harmful habits that strain jaw and neck muscles,” said Diana Hearn, PT, DPT, OCS, leader for the Musculoskeletal team and Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) Program at Penn Therapy & Fitness.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to relieve and help manage temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain from the comfort of your home.

Jaw Pain, TMJ and TMD

The muscles and ligaments you use to move your mouth connect to your temporomandibular joints, which is where your skull and lower jawbone meet. Temporomandibular disorders, including arthritis, dislocation, injury or infection in your TMJ, can cause painful clicking and locking in your jaw, headaches, neck pain and ringing in your ears.

For many people, TMD symptoms don’t last long, but for others, pain and discomfort when moving their facial muscles is chronic (long lasting) and can be made worse by clenching, chewing, swallowing, or grinding teeth over time.

TMJ Pain Relief: 8 Best Practices

In minor cases, TMJ pain relief is possible with nonsurgical treatment options, Hearn said.

Here are eight ways you can help relieve pain in your TMJ and manage symptoms without surgery:

  1. Maintain the resting position of your jaw
  2. Correct your posture
  3. Get a good night’s sleep
  4. Apply a hot or cold compress
  5. Reduce stress
  6. Exercise your jaw
  7. Take notice of bad habits
  8. Avoid certain activities and foods

Maintain the resting position of your jaw

To help alleviate TMJ pain, minimize wide jaw movements, such as chewing, yawning, singing, and yelling.

Do your best to keep your muscles as relaxed as possible.

Correct your posture

Sitting in an unideal position for long periods of time can cause you to feel more pain in your jaw.

When working, choose a chair with back support and take frequent breaks to improve your posture. While driving, set your seat to be as upright as possible, and while doing leisure activities, such as watching TV or reading, choose a space that allows you to sit upright and place a pillow behind your back for support.

suggests the following exercise to correct your sitting or standing posture: Raise your chest bone, pull your shoulders back and gently squeeze your shoulder blades to straighten your back muscles.

Get a good night’s sleep

Sleep is important for many aspects of good health.

To help minimize TMJ pain, sleep on your back and use pillows to support your neck. You should avoid sleeping on your stomach, and if sleeping on your side, do not place your hand on your jaw.

Use a hot or cold compress

Ice helps reduce swelling and pain, while heat can increase blood flow and relax your jaw muscles.

Apply a hot or cold compress to your jaw for 15 to 20 minutes at a time using a light layer between the compress and your skin.

Reduce stress

Try mediation techniques to help loosen and relax your jaw.

Yoga practices can also help put less stress on your muscles, and gardening is a great activity to try to calm your mind and relax your face.

Exercise your jaw

Jaw exercises can help increase mobility in your joints. There are three types of jaw exercises that can be used together to relieve pain:

  • Stretch exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Relaxation exercises

Take notice of bad habits

You may have a few tendencies that can cause TMD pain.

Such habits include:

  •  Nail biting
  • Chewing cheeks and lips
  • Resting your jaw in your hand
  • Clenching your teeth
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Clenching jaw muscles pushing the tongue against your teeth
  • Take note of your daily patterns and jot them down to discuss with your doctor. Keep in mind how often you do them.

Avoid certain activities and foods

Specific activities and foods can cause you to open your mouth forcefully or move your jaw in an extreme way. Try to avoid the following:

  • Yawning or yelling
  • Crunchy or hard foods
  • Taking large bites of food
  • Foods that require prolonged chewing
  • Chewing gum

Surgical Options for TMJ Pain

For some people with TMD, at-home pain relief exercises may not be enough.

“The team of oral medicine and maxillofacial surgeons at Penn Medicine provides comprehensive examination and intervention [for TMD] with focus on a conservative, reversible approach including physical therapy,” Hearn said, noting that Good Shepherd Penn Partners’ TMD specialists work together with Penn Medicine’s Oral and Maxillofacial surgeons to treat patients with TMD and TMJ pain.

Learn more about surgical options to treat temporomandibular joint disorders, including arthroscopy, arthroplasty, and total joint replacement at the Center for Temporomandibular Joint Disease

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