I’ve talked about a lot of things here on World’s Strongest Librarian, but this is the first time I’ve brought up TMJ pain, despite messing around with it for a lot longer than I’m happy with. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. This silly little joint has caused me an undue amount of headaches and jaw pain over the last few years. But my case is a little different. I have Tourette’s Syndrome, which causes me to move and vocalize involuntarily. One of the most frequent tics I have had involves my jaw. It moves in all sorts of direction at abrupt speeds.
This results in tension that settles in my neck, my TMJ, and more. I’m not a doctor, so my only intention in this post is to show you some of the movements I have gotten some relief from.
The biggest problem for me is that once my jaw has clenched enough times, it wants to stay clenched. Even opening it to perform the TMJ exercises has been a chore at times. I get around this the same way that I do with all of the other movements I will talk about: by starting with whatever tiny range of motion I can and then expanding it. I move where I can’t, without pain or stress, so that I’ll be able to move where I can.
Anterior and posterior Jaw glides
This exercise comprises the movement of the lower jaw to the front, and then to the back. It is going to be a very small range of motion for most people. I focus on making the movement smooth and as effortless as possible. Slide the jaw forward, keeping your lower teeth just clear of your upper teeth. I repeat this until a repetition feels harder than the one before it.
Lateral translations of the jaw
This is a similar movement, but rather than going from front to back, the jaws glides from left to right, stopping just short of its limit. This isn’t about really cranking on things and getting a workout. I try to predict when it is just about to start getting tight and then I back off. I stop when I can no longer do it effortlessly.
Combining the protraction and retraction with the lateral (side-to-side) glides results in a nice smooth circle. The movement will probably feel awkward at first. It was for me but I improved quickly.
The jaw can also be moved diagonally at various speeds and ranges of motion. Effortless and easy. If it hurts, I don’t do it.
Opening and closing
Again, if my jaw is clenched, then it feels good to open it, once I can do it without pain. The simple act of opening and closing the jaw while moving it smoothly and painlessly makes me feel very good sometimes.
Now, the point of all this is that when I have had a good session with some, or all, of these movements, my headache has usually abated or vanished. Also the tension I hold in my neck is usually lessened or eliminated, at least until I start having tics again.
I spend a lot of time under tension given my work with heavy strength training and my kettlebell hobby/addiction. Some of that tension definitely settles in my jaw when I get careless and lose awareness of it. It’s interesting for me to realize that I can improve a giant movement like a heavy deadlift with a little TMJ work, but it’s true.
So far I believe that every time the small movements improve, the big movements improve as well, and vice versa.
If you are having any trouble with tension or pain in your jaw, it might be worth your while to experiment with these movements, as long as they are painless and effortless. I’ve yet to hurt myself with any physical activity provided I can avoid unnecessary tension and effort.
The only other thing I try is to test each movement with a biofeedback range of motion test. I have written more about this in this review of Adam Glass’ Grip and Rip DVD.