It's estimated that between 5 and 12 percent of adults are dealing with disorders of the temporomandibular joint (also called the TMJ), according to the Cleveland Clinic.
And it's rare that jaw pain is the only consequence — other issues like neck and shoulder tension and tension headaches tend to follow. Luckily, incorporating a few yoga poses into your daily routine could make a world of difference.
Yoga for Neck Pain and the TMJ
There are a few ways yoga works to help relieve jaw pain. For one, certain yoga poses may help correct misalignment of the head by bringing it up and back.
Habits like staring down at your computer, tablet or cell phone can cause a forward head posture, which puts undue pressure on the neck and can lead to muscle tension, according to a December 2019 review in Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine.
The muscles in your neck, like your sternocleidomastoid (the long band of muscle that wraps from the base of your skull down to your sternum), work to support your jaw joint.
When they become tense and tight, you can experience referred pain and tension in your TMJ, per the Cleveland Clinic. Yoga poses that stretch the neck and shoulder muscles can help relieve that tension and pain.
TMJ isn’t always caused by neck tension, but it can be. According to the Cleveland Clinic, other causes include:
- Jaw injury
- Teeth grinding or clenching
- Arthritis of the jaw joint
- Misaligned teeth
Yoga Poses for TMJ Relief
If you're dealing with jaw pain and a tight neck, try these yoga moves to feel some relief.
1. Seated Neck Tilt
Stretching the muscles in your neck can go a long way in relieving tension in your shoulders, neck and TMJ. Be sure to take deep breaths as you stretch to encourage those areas to relax.
- Begin in a comfortable seated position with your legs crossed in front of you.
- Place your left hand behind your head, hooking your fingers under the bottom right side of your skull, just behind your right ear.
- Tilt your head to the left and press your head back into your hand. Breathe deeply, stretching a bit deeper on each exhale.
- Keep your jaw and face relaxed as you breathe for 4 to 5 full breaths, then return to center and perform on the other side.
2. Thread the Needle
As mentioned, jaw tension can occur along with tension along the thoracic spine and shoulders. Opening up this area with postures like thread the needle pose can help bring some relief.
If resting your head directly on the mat feels uncomfortable, place a folded towel or blanket underneath it for extra cushion.
- Begin on all fours with your shoulders stacked above your wrists and your hips stacked above your knees.
- On an inhale, draw your left arm up toward the ceiling, then thread it through the center of your body and out to the right side, dropping your left shoulder to the ground.
- Rest your left ear on the ground and relax your jaw and face. Breathe deeply for 3 to 5 breaths, then perform on the other side.
3. Locust Pose With Chin Tuck
Locust pose involves lying on your belly with your hands clasped behind you, which helps elongate the entire front of your body, especially your chest, shoulders and front of your neck.
Adding a chin tuck may help realign the jaw — just be sure you're not tensing your jaw while you're doing the pose.
- Begin on your belly with your hands clasped behind your back and your forehead resting on the ground.
- On an inhale, keep your chin tucked as you lift your head away from the ground, keeping your gaze down toward the ground (rather than out in front of you).
- Relax your jaw and breathe deeply for 3 to 5 breaths.
- On an exhale, release back down to the ground.
- Perform 2 more times.
4. Diaphragmatic Breathing With Neck Support
Breathing into your diaphragm (the muscle below your lungs that helps you breathe) can help encourage blood flow to your the chest, shoulders, neck and jaw. For this posture, you'll need to roll up a yoga blanket or towel to place underneath your neck for support.
- Roll up a yoga blanket or towel and place it across the top of your mat.
- Lie on your back with your feet planted on the floor and place the rolled blanket underneath the arch of your neck for support. Your head should be resting off of the towel.
- Relax your jaw and face and take a few deep breaths into your diaphragm. Imagine your ribs expanding all the way out as you inhale and contracting inward as you exhale.
- If it feels comfortable, place the palm of your hand on the center of your forehead and gently press your head down into the ground.
- Take 3 to 5 more deep breaths, then release.
5. Heart Bench
Tight muscles in the chest can also contribute to neck tension and TMJ pain, and opening them up in a supported heart bench is another great way to counteract it.
You can roll up a towel or yoga blanket, use yoga blocks or simply stack up some pillows for this heart-opening yoga pose.
- Roll a towel or yoga blanket lengthwise (or stack two pillows) and place it on your yoga mat so that it can support your spine.
- Lie back with your spine along the blanket or towel and take both of your arms out the sides. The blanket should rest just under the base of your skull.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply into your diaphragm as you relax your face, jaw and forehead.
- Stay here for 5 to 10 breaths.
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