The area where the upper and the lower jaws meet is known as temporomandibular joint (TMJ). It consists of muscles and bones. When these muscles are in a relaxed state, we can open the mouth comfortably without any pain. If they become stiff, then it results in biting problems, locked jaw, pain and so on. Usually, the normal functioning gets affected due to temporomandibular joint disorder. This condition is triggered when the muscles are overused because of excessive clenching of teeth or they have suffered injury.
There are several effective ways of releasing tension from the jaw muscles. A few self-care methods that can be used for this purpose are given here:
Relax the Jaw: First of all, the jaw muscles should be rested as much as possible. Care should be taken that no additional pressure is exerted on the temporomandibular joint. For this reason, any hard food should be strictly avoided. Soft food like soups, milkshakes, eggs, etc. are recommended in this condition as minimum activity is required for eating them.
Application of Heat: When heat is applied on the tensed jaw muscles, it improves circulation in the area. As a result, any damage in the muscle will heal up fast. Take a wet towel, microwave it for a minute to make it warm and apply it on both sides. Heat can be applied for 5-10 minutes at a time and not more than that. Repeat this heat application two to three times daily depending on the severity of the problem.
Application of Cold: Along with heat treatment, you can also apply cold on the jaw alternatively. Take a washcloth, wrap up a few ice cubes in it and place it on the jaws for 5 to 10 minutes. Reapply it 3-4 times a day. If the stiffening is caused by traumatic injury, then cold compression is highly effective.
Massage: A gentle massage can reduce its soreness to some extent. Move the fingers lightly in circular motions over the taut muscles for 5-10 seconds. It should be followed by a mild stretching of the muscles. For this, just open up the mouth for a few seconds. Open the mouth as much as you are comfortable and not beyond that. Stop massaging when you are stretching the jaws. Massage these muscles a number of times throughout the day after regular intervals.
There are a number of exercises that are highly beneficial for the relaxation of the muscles in the area. A few simple exercises are given below:
Exercise #1: Stretch the jaw by opening up the mouth as wide as possible. Repeat this a number of times to warm up the muscles and improve joint mobility. Then put your hand on the jaw and try to open your mouth all over again. This time the hand will resist the movement of the jaw. You can feel the jaw muscles exerting pressure to open the mouth. Hold the position for 30 seconds. It will not just relax the muscles but also train the jaw to stop clenching.
Exercise #2: There are small indentations behind the jaw muscles which are quite close to the ears. Place two fingers on these indentations and push either side of the jaw side ways. When you do this, you experience a mild pain. At this point, massage the jaw muscles with your fingers for a few seconds. This will ease off the tension from these muscles.
Exercise #3: Try to open your mouth wide as much as you are comfortable. Now, while closing the mouth, resist the jaw movement by applying force on the lower front teeth inserting the fingers inside the mouth. Maintain this position for a few seconds and then release it. This should be repeated for 10 times.
Exercise #4: Stand in front of a mirror and open the mouth as much that does not cause any pain or discomfort. Now, try to move the lower jaw in the forward direction and then move it backward. Repeat these movements a number of times. Similarly, move the jaws on both the sides a few times. Then lie down for some time to relax.
Now, you know that relaxation is possible with the help of exercises and various other techniques. Sometimes, stiffness could be related to mental stress. Under the influence of stress, we tend to clench our teeth tightly and tension develops in the jaw muscles. Therefore, efforts have to be made to relax the mind as well in order to prevent recurrence of jaw muscle problem.