Ease TMJ Jaw Pain With These Simple Pilates Moves

Posture and Alignment Can Worsen TMJ, But Pilates Can Help

Exercise Ball and Yoga Mat
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Temporomandibular disorder, known as TMD or TMJ, is thought to affect more than 5 percent of the population, plaguing them with sleep disturbances, facial pain, swelling, and difficulty eating. While many rightfully seek out the help of dentists and dental appliances, there is evidence that neck and spinal alignment may be partly to blame.

Exercise has been positively associated with TMD treatment outcomes.

If you suspect that neck and spine alignment may be exacerbating your TMD, Pilates may be the exact type of corrective exercise you need. Try these two moves—they'll help improve your posture and strengthen your upper back, in turn helping to ease TMJ pain.

Assess and Fix Your Posture With a Wall Stand

This basic beginner Pilates move, the wall stand, packs a wallop and fixes what I call "telephone neck." You'll immediately become aware of your everyday posture and where you ought to be standing. If there's a single move you need to make time for each day, it's this simple wall standing exercise. Grab a sturdy smooth wall and get started.   

Stand with your back to the wall and place your heels right where the floor meets the wall. Stand pressed against the wall from head to feet. Take a moment to notice where your spine falls at the wall. To begin, you want the base of your skull, the backs of your shoulders, your seat, calves, and heels to the wall.

Hold the position wrapping your shoulders back and lengthening your spine upward. As you hold the position, press your arms lightly into the wall and see if you can press your skull and the length of your spine more and more firmly into the wall.

Hold this position for 60 seconds. Repeat throughout the day.

 

QUICK FIX: What if I can't get the back of my skull to the wall? 

Great question. Grab a small rolled up towel and place it behind your head. Hold the towel to the wall and perform the exercise as described.

Strengthen Your Upper Back With Chest Expansion

Perform this move anywhere (including your desk) on its own or right after the Wall Stand exercise. You'll use the wall to provide resistance, strengthening the upper back muscles that become weakened from poor posture, forward head, or tight chest muscles. Step away from the wall and begin.

Remain with your back to the wall but step a foot out from where your heels were against the wall so you are standing freely. Reach back to place your flat palms at the wall behind you. Adjust your distance as needed. Lift your chest up high, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and press your palms strongly into the wall. Grow taller and longer as you continue pushing the wall behind you.

Hold the position for five slow breaths and release the arms down by your side.

Repeat three times. Perform throughout the day.

QUICK FIX: What if my shoulders round forward when I do this?

This happens. Shoulder and chest tightness can limit your range of motion. You may be too far away from the wall. Simply walk your feet back closer to the wall and try again.

More Moves to Try

There is widespread acceptance of the phrase "lifestyle disease" but there is also a very real physical counterpart to these unseen illnesses. Our bodies wear the effects of our lifestyles. Prolonged sitting, poor biomechanics, and excessive time spent on electronic devices all contribute to body aches, pains, and dysfunction. These key Pilates exercises will help offset the poor postural alignment that can trigger TMD episodes.

There are many additional Pilates exercises that can effectively address postural misalignments that occur as a result of our technology driven sedentary lifestyle. The first five exercises of the classic Pilates Mat are a great place to start if you are looking to begin a Pilates program. 

Sources:

Liu F, Steinkeler A. Epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of temporomandibular disorders. Dental clinics of North America. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23809304. 

Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) and Joint Pain. WebMD. 2016. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/temporomandibular-disorders-tmd#1. 

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