Today we’re going to talk about some basic motor control exercises for a happier jaw.
One of the most common questions that I get relates to jaw discomfort or jaw pain, a lot of people would call it TMJ or TMD. TM stands for temporomandibular, which is the actual joint itself. A lot of people, like I said, ask me about it all the time. They go, “What are some good exercises?” I want to start to address it, I’m going to talk about it this week, also next week, and I want to go through a few key things. There are a lot of different issues that can occur in the jaw.
If you’re having clicking, popping pain, first thing you need to do is see a healthcare provider about it, see if you have something going on that’s on with your teeth or jaw structure. Because there’s so much that can occur up here and it’s a very sensitive area. Before you try any of these exercises, please make sure that you clear them with someone that actually has looked at you, rather than just me talking to you on a camera.
Number two: because the jaw is very sensitive to movement dysfunction and also because there’s a ton of sensory nerve endings in here, it can be quite problematic if you overdo it. What I’m going to ask you to do as you start following along with the exercises, please know that we’re going to focus on movement precision and not range of motion to begin with. Because, whenever I work with a jaw, the first thing I’m interested in is, can you control it?
Can you move it without pain? Can you move it in a way that is comfortable to you, rather than pushing into anything that’s uncomfortable? As we go through any of the movements we’re going to be very conscious of being careful with how we move. We’re going to emphasize motor control, meaning very, very precise movement, and if you have any discomfort I want you to stop, reduce the range of motion, reduce the speed at which you’re moving and try to do this as pain free as possible.
Now, if you’re not in any kind of pain or having any kind of jaw issues, I would recommend that you still try these exercises, make sure that you assess something, maybe shoulder range of motion or neck, or even in your lower back, maybe how comfortable you are in a forward bend, because problems in the jaw can absolutely cause issues in other areas of the body, so it’s a great spot to work on from a rehab perspective, but also from a training perspective. If you watch some of my other blogs, you know we talk about tongue position and teeth position.
There is some cool research coming out about how those influence our strength and athleticism.
For everybody, probably a good thing to play with, but we’re going to do it very, very carefully. Our basic process first is to identify, where is my jaw? What I want you to do is put your fingertips on your cheekbones, roll all the way back to your ear, and then just underneath the ridge of your cheekbone, put your fingers right there, and now very, very slowly open your mouth. As you open your mouth, what you will feel is some bones rolling underneath your fingers.
Your first exercise is to do nothing else but to open to a comfortable distance four or five times and notice the rhythm of the movement. Does one side move first? Does another side move at the same time but it slide out? All those different things are going to be something that I want you to pay attention to, because this is the first stuff that we’re going to work on from a motor control perspective. Once you’ve figured out where your jaw is and have an idea of how your jaw moves, the next thing I’m going to ask you to do is go in front of a mirror and we’re going to work on some very, very small motions of the lower jaw and work on symmetry.
The idea is this, you’re going to palpate or touch one of the joints and then you’re going to put your other index finger on your chin. We are going to start off working in a side to side motion for the TM joint, and it’s called a lateral glide, and what we want you to do is, I want you to move your lower canine tooth, right, your pointy tooth, until it touches the upper pointy tooth, the upper canine. It’s a very small motion, as we go back and forth.
Now, the idea is to watch this in a mirror and see if you can do it symmetrically and with control. What we find with a lot of people if they have an issue in the joint is, when I say, “Okay, touch one canine to the other.” They will overshoot by a good distance or whenever they make the motion happen they’ll just slam the jaw side to side rather than moving it precisely. That’s really one of the things they want you to focus on. You begin doing this exercise with your teeth almost together, so that the teeth can actually be the movement guide or the barrier that stops the motion.
All right, so I ask you to do that four or five times touching one TM joint. You’re then going to go to the opposite side and do the same thing again, trying to work on symmetry. Now, that’s exercise number one. Exercise number two, you’re then going to open the mouth halfway and you want to repeat the same exercise. Remember, as you’re doing the second exercise, that your emphasizing control and a small range of motion, again, imagining that one of the canine tooth is running into the other, although this time they won’t be touching, all right? Really, really simple exercises. Once you’ve done that, maybe five or six times on each side, if everything’s feeling good, jaw’s feeling a little bit more relaxed, we then want to work on a front to back motion or called an anterior posterior glide.
The easiest way again, to do this, is touch one of the joints, put your index finger on your chin.
Again, you’re going to start with the teeth almost together, not quite, so you don’t want them touching this time, and you’re going to move the chin forward and then back, forward, and back. Again, focusing on four to five repetitions and then switching to the opposite side. Now, here’s where it gets really interesting. Once you’ve done exercise one, exercise two and exercise three, what I’m going to then ask you to do is sit down in a chair with a desk in front of you. All right, you’re going to get nice, tall posture and then you’re just going to lean forward with your head resting on your hands.
You can hopefully visualize that, basically like you’re taking a nap at school. You’re going to lean forward, good posture, forehead resting on your hands, and I want you to repeat the same exercises in that position. The advantage of getting the body into that forward lean with the head relaxing but in good posture, is that you’ll actually use gravity to open up the joint a little bit more and relax the joint a little bit more.
What I find is that a lot of clients actually benefit tremendously from that to learn what this area is supposed to feel like.
Those are our basic starting points for just having decent motor control of the jaw.
Next time we’ll look at strengthening it, once you have some of the newfound ranges of motion established.