Temporomandibular joint disorder involves pain and stiffness in the joint where the jawbone meets the skull. One of the common symptoms is a popping or clicking sensation when opening or closing the jaw. In some cases, TMJ disorder is caused by injury, but stress and jaw abnormalities and poor posture can contribute to the condition. Some medical professionals may recommend surgery and orthodontics to correct the problem, however the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recommends gentle stretching and relaxing exercises to increase jaw movement.
Poor posture, such as holding your head forward, can also contribute to TMJ disorder, according to the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, or NISMAT. Exercises that pull the head back to a neutral position and draw the shoulders into their natural position may relieve the stiffness and popping of the TMJ. To align your posture, stand with your back and shoulder blades against the wall. Bring your shoulder blades together to draw your shoulders back and down. Tuck your chin and shift your head until the back of your head touches the wall. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds and release. Repeat five times.
NISMAT cites whiplash injury as a possible cause of TMJ. Additionally, tightness in the jaw can also cause tight neck muscles, according to Sandy Fritz, author of "Mosby's Massage Therapy Review." Sit comfortably with your shoulders and head in neutral position. Tilt your head forward and gently press your hand against the back of your head to increase the stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds and return to the neutral position. Look up and extend your chin toward the ceiling, while keeping your head from falling backward. Hold for up to 30 seconds and release. Tilt your head to the right and gently press against the left side to increase the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat the same motion on the right. Circle your head clockwise four times, keeping your head from falling back past your shoulders, then rotate counter-clockwise.
Jaw stretches fall into two categories: the max opening and lateral stretches. Both sets of stretches release tight jaw muscles and help retrain the jaw to its natural position. Sit comfortably and open your mouth as wide as is comfortable. Gently press your hand or fist against the front of your jaw to increase the stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds and if you feel pain, stop. Slide your jaw to the left and gently press against the right side of your jaw with your hand or fist. Hold for up to 30 seconds and if you feel pain, stop. Slide your jaw to the left, press and hold for 30 seconds and release. Repeat each exercise four times.
- Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma: Physical Therapy Corner - The Temporomandibular Joint
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: Less is Often Best in Treating TMJ Disorder
- "Mosby's Massage Therapy Review"; Sandy Fritz; 2006