Got Jaw Pain? 3 Yoga Strategies for Alleviating TMJ Discomfort

Millions of Americans suffer from pain caused by TMJ. TMJ is characterized by dysfunction in and around the temporomandibular joints, the joints where the mandibles (jawbones) meet the temporal bones of the skull. Yoga offers some excellent ways to address this pain and can provide relief that some individuals can feel almost immediately.

If you experience clicking, jaw popping, pain in or around your jaw, jaw locking, pain around your teeth, and soreness in your jaw upon awakening, then chances are you are suffering from TMJ pain.

Three of the main categories of TMJ pain are:

  1. Myofascial pain: pain in the muscle and the tissue

  2. Derangement of the joint meaning a misalignment within the temporomandibular joint

  3. Degenerative joint disease around the temporomandibular joint

Stretching the muscles around the neck, shoulders, and chest can give some relief for this discomfort. Addressing tightness with the use of stretching and supported yoga poses can decrease some of the myofascial tension as well as allowing the jaw to align better.

Here are some ways that you can practice yoga to assist with symptom relief:

Do a Body Scan: Scanning your body for pain and discomfort is a great way to help determine where you are experiencing tension and TMJ pain. Woman practicing supported savasana

  1. You can do this lying down or seated.         

  2. Scan your body, moving your attention through the entire head—from the scalp, to the forehead, to the eyes, to the cheeks, to the nose, to the mouth, to the jaw, down into the neck (front, sides and back), upper back and shoulders as well as the muscles of the chest.

  3. Notice if there are any areas where you are holding tension or areas where you notice discomfort. Use your breath to help you relax any areas of tension you find.

  4. Inhale, breathing in, and observing.

  5. Exhale, releasing tension and focusing on relaxing the muscle tissue in each area.

  6. Take as many rounds of the breath cycle as needed to allow an area of tension to release.

Often, those with TMJ hold a great deal of tension in their head, neck, and shoulders. A simple body scan can create the awareness to observe where you hold tension and to help you focus on releasing it. This is a process that can be repeated as often as needed.

Stretch Your Neck: Neck stretching is also a great way to relieve TMJ discomfort and pain because tense neck muscles and fascia can significantly impact pain in the jaw.     Neck Stretch, Chair Yoga, Gentle stretching, pain relief, greater rom

  1. While sitting, drop your head to one side, letting your ear drop toward your shoulder and keeping your chin facing forward. Hold this for three or four breaths.

  2. Keeping your head dropped to the side, rotate your chin down toward the same shoulder. Hold this for three or four breaths.

  3. Rotate your head back to the starting point.

  4. Repeat this cycle on each side for two or three rounds.

Do this throughout the day, especially any time you notice that you might be starting to raise or elevate your shoulders as you become stressed or tense, as you drive or as you hold your devices.

Practice Supported Backbends: Supported backbends are also a wonderful way to focus on releasing tension in and around the neck and shoulders, as well as the chest muscles. As our chest muscles tighten, we have a tendency to draw our shoulders forward, which in turn pulls our chin forward.        Woman practicing supported backbend with yoga bolster

The chin-forward position, coupled with jaw tension, is a common combination for those with TMJ and generalized stress. This combination is a recipe for additional pain.

  1. Roll a blanket into a long cylinder, placing it on a yoga mat so that it is parallel to the long edges of your yoga mat.

  2. Sit on the floor in front of your blanket roll with your rear touching the end of the roll. Lie back on the roll so that the upper part of your lumbar spine, your thoracic and cervical spines, and your head are all resting on the blanket.

  3. Extend your arms out to your sides at shoulder height with your palms facing upward. Allow your spine to be supported, and the muscles around your chest, shoulders, and neck to relax into that support.

  4. Your hips should be on the floor. Your knees can remain bent, or your legs can be extended.

  5. Stay here for at least a couple minutes or potentially even a few minutes. As you do so, breathe in and out through your nose.

  6. Take long breath cycles, lengthening the inhalation and the exhalation. Part your teeth slightly so that there is space between your teeth.

  7. Let your entire body relax into the supported pose and allow tension to begin to release.

Study with YogaUOnline and Christine Wushke-Fascia Awareness in Yoga & Movement: Keys to Enhancing Soft Tissue Resilience and Releasing Chronic Tension.

Christine Wushke, YogaU presenter, Yoga and Fascia

Here’s another helpful article from Emily Hardeman and YogaUOnline-Teaching Yoga: Creating a Signature Experience.

YogaUOnline contributor Emily HardemanEmily is passionate about yoga, anatomy, and sustainable movement. She is a yoga teacher, IAYT certified yoga therapist, and massage therapist. Emily has created both a 200 and 300-hour yoga teacher training program focused on therapeutics and a solid understanding of how yoga asanas can be adapted to fit anyone’s needs. She also has written CE trainings to help teachers fill in the gaps after graduating from Yoga teacher training and their real-world experiences. Her belief is that Yoga is not just for skinny, flexible people.  Yoga is for everyone, regardless of size, age, and health. One of her goals is to help yoga and movement teachers gain high-level training and education so they can in-turn change the world through yoga. She has over 2500 hours of training and well over 4000 hours of teaching experience. Her teaching has ranged from working with professional athletes to those confined to chairs.


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