How To Fix Your Stupid Jaw: Self-Massage For TMJ

From the ages of, oh, 17-24, my jaw was a complete piece of crap. It clicked, it popped, it hurt to open, and damn it hurt to close. Not all the time, of course. It came in waves, and some days would be better than others.

TMJ disorder (often just called TMJ) is a problem with the temporomandibular joint, a very complex place where the jaw bone is connected to the head bone. This is a floaty joint, meant to come a bit out of socket as you open wide, move your jaw side to side, forward and back, etc. As you may have noticed, there’s a disc involved, a little piece of cartilage just like the ones between your vertebrae. Some of you will notice it pop in and out of place, and others will have had a very painful experience with this. Sorry about all that.

Iiiii ain't got no body

Anxiety was definitely involved in my case, no doubt about it. I had several fun, overlapping anxiety disorders that made sure that my jaw got no rest while I slept, and that I felt like crap by the time I needed to wake up. This is a phenomenon known as sleep bruxism, otherwise known as grinding the shit out of your teeth at night. Ever wake up with a sore jaw or wiggly teeth? Have a problem with receding gums? Get frequent headaches in your temples? You’re a prime candidate.

Bruxism is a problem because it involves long periods of intense isometric contraction, which is what you do when you stand up straight and stay that way all day. In other words, you’re treating your jaw clenchers like posture muscles, giving them the super power to stay tight for long periods.

My dear mum told me that my teeth grinding was audible when I was a kid, so I’ve been doing it for a while. I needed a behavioral change, and I got it by way of a bite splint. These are glorified mouth guards, they’re expensive as hell, but (after months of hating having them in my mouth) I stopped waking up with pain. After wearing one for years, and eventually wearing through it, I had made an interesting change in my jaw posture: I allowed my teeth to be parted by a few millimeters as their resting position.

Fixing TMJ will require a behavioral change.

That means catching yourself when you’re clenching (again and again and again), and preventing any unnatural/repetitive jaw movements. My dear friends, I’m afraid this means no more gum, not ever.

We’re trying to train our nervous system, not change the joint. The joint is acting funky because the muscles are yanking on it in ways that it doesn’t like. Over the course of the next few months, it’s your job to let your nervous system know that there’s a new order in town, and that prolonged clenching, wide-open yawning, and constant mastication aren’t part of it.

How to go about it? Well, you may need one of those bite splints. It helped me, though I manage fine without it these days. If you get one, go to your dentist for a proper fitting. The ones you can get at the corner drugstore are glorified chew toys, but without the whimsy.

You need to catch yourself doing weird jaw behaviors. Train yourself to keep your teeth slightly parted. Check your jaw for tightness every time you pass through a doorway (or every time you pee, or close a browser window, or whatever). Don’t yawn wide enough for that disc to pop out. No stuff that involves punishing your jaw (gum, sunflower seeds, Sugar Daddies, ice). Oh, and no testing it every freakin’ hour. Yes, I know that you do it. Yes, you need to stop. Leave the poor thing alone.

Finally, try interfacing with your nervous system directly through massage. There are ways for us to tell the nervous system to calm the hell down, reducing spasm and tone. You know how you want to tone up in the gym? You want the tone in your jaw to reduce, leaving the muscles floppy and pliable. Massage can do this.

I made a little video about just this:

Fun, huh? If you can’t watch video right now, the gist is to gently place your fingertips at your lower jaw, then slowly push skin northward until you reach your scalp. That’s it. Skin pushing, gently, for 2 minutes or so. This is called myofascial release, and you will feel more freedom and less pain after doing it, all because of the nervous system calming down for once in its life. If it hurts, use less pressure.

A temporary reduction in pain is great, but we’re going for long-term. That means implementing a regimen. Start with once a day right before bed. Add another session the next morning if you wake up without unusual soreness, and stay at twice a day for a while. Keep it at no more than three times a day; this shouldn’t become a way of punishing your jaw for its impertinence. Love your poor jaw.

Oh, and ice it when it’s really sore.

Once you’ve played with all this, we’ll work on reducing some of the tension in your neck and upper torso, which will help up here as well. Give it a try, give it some time, and be kind to yourself. Let me know how it goes.

59 thoughts on “How To Fix Your Stupid Jaw: Self-Massage For TMJ

  1. Thank you for writing this awesome blog! My stupid jaw has been hurting for 5 months. Your video on gentle Myofascial release has been a jaw saver! I have been trying to bulldoze my masseter, my SCM and my temporalis only to discover that I needed gentle, slow pressure to the fascia. My “cute waggy tail” body much prefers slow and gentle!

    Thank you for your humor. I look forward to reading more when you return from your hiatus!

  2. This was brilliant! I’m feeling better and all I did wasbthe massage. I have one of those chew toy splints and it seems to be working alright but I plan to go to the dentist and get a real one.

    1. Good call on getting the custom splint, there’s a world of difference between those and the kind you can get at the drug store. So glad this helped, keep me updated!

  3. Awesome video. Thank you so much. I read the instructions and tried it but went waaaaay too fast. After following along at the speed done on the video it was instant relief.

  4. So happy to have found this! I have long stretches of TMJ problems (I’ve worn through several custom splints) and have been in the midst of one for about 2 months now, this has been helpful the last few days! I also looked at your video for headaches, and when I do that it sends a tingly (pins and needles) feeling from the top of my head down one side of my face- could that also be related to my jaw?

  5. felt amazing! you said you would feel tingling why? I felt it on the left side of my face after going northward. Then after I did the second part it moved to my chin! It’s not exactly comfortable ha ha how do you get rid of the tingling and does it go away? is it okay to massage where the tingling is? Thanks for this info!

  6. Thanks man,I went to the emergencey room today with teeth issues and I have had horrible headaches and jaw neck and shoulder pain forbyears. Come to find out I have tmj. Ive done some research and I did go to school for massage therapy but I am very thankfull for your video. Very informative and am hoping that this will help me some to deal with the pain. Thanks again! -Halie

  7. This was extremely helpful thank you very much. I got braces to fix my jaw problems but after a little bit they didnt do shit, but i think this may have worked way better. thanks 🙂

  8. A dog ate my custom mouth guard and I’m waiting to hear back from my dentist about a new one. In the meantime, I am an anxious mess about clenching my teeth into dust. Completely counterproductive, I know, but I can’t turn it off, especially with the bill I will probably have to pay. I couldn’t resist reading an article called “How to fix your stupid jaw” because those are my exact thoughts 🙂 I enjoyed reading your points and will be trying self massage before bed, in addition to some meditation to hopefully calm the mind (and muscles). Thanks!

  9. Thanks for article, it is very helpful.

    Who knows how long, I been jaw clenching. I suspect It’s been going on since age 22. I’m 25 now and symptoms are worsening. I want to get treated for it, but my insurance doesn’t cover, and I’m currently out of work right now.

  10. I have been so sore for 3 months now that even the slightest touch in front of my ears causes swelling and more pain. I started this tonight but the pain is immediately worse.

    1. See a legitimate medical doctor. There are a number of issues which manifest similar to TMJ which cannot be treated by any means other than surgery.

  11. Thank you for this and for your “Stupid Jaw” title. My jaw has been getting stuck open because my night splint isn’t fitting right and today is was really starting to freak me out. I needed this massage work and the snarky humor. Some touchy feely thing would have just made me clench more.

  12. Wow, that really helped! Thank you! I have developed a problem with my TMJ over the last couple of weeks. This is the first time I have been able to close my jaw fully and have my teeth touch on the left side in 3 days. Amazing!! Thank you!

  13. I have tinnitus in my left ear as a result of clenching as well as pain behind when I touch the bone behind that ear. Will these techniques help with these symptoms too? My jaw muscle is extremely tight & sore. The bite guard doesn’t seem to have helped…yet.

  14. I have BRUTAL tmj that has caused issues with my ears and teeth for almost 5 years. Almost immediate relief within minutes… I can’t say thank you enough.

  15. Due to getting adult braces recently, I found I couldn’t open my jaw. What used to be an infrequent problem became a constant condition. Using the techniques in your video and the application of heat alternating with cold did the trick. I can now open my jaw, and subsequent occurrences have been quickly remedied by repeating your techniques. I can’t tell you how relieved I am–thank you!

  16. Oh my. I’ve been doing it wrong for years. I had more relief from doing this twice than I have in years of trying to massage with what I now recognize as having been too much pressure. My jaw has always clicked (well, since I was a teenager … interestingly it only started after braces straightened my teeth), but it’s recently been popping more often and with some pain. This week my neck began to ache, as though there’s a swollen lymph node (alas, none to be felt), which I’m pretty sure is because of my stupid jaw. Going to get that checked out, but am already thrilled to have learned this technique.

  17. I woke up unable to open my mouth this morning and I stumbled across this and used this method and my jaw relaxed and fixed itself from this. Now it doesn’t even pop when I open it. Thank you for sharing this.

  18. I have ear problems , since ive been blindly doing core jaw stretches its been awesome, but now i tried your method, im tripping out its so amazing. Its helping me talk with more strength increased voice pitch, more note variations and more than anything a stronger thinker/spiritual person.

  19. Thanks! I had an “episode” tonight after flossing in which my stupid jaw got stuck open. Very scary! I’m not going to try your method until tomorrow when the muscles have had a chance to calm down, but I really appreciate your posting this.

  20. This was so helpful and very knowledgable! I would love to see videos on how to help with neck pain related to this! Thank you:)

  21. Working on this tonight, especially since I’ve been unconsciously clenching my teeth for the last week, I can’t believe I forgot about this trick from school. I”m a massage therapist too!
    Just gotta be gentle with the zygomatic arch tho, but it feels great when I’m doing it.

  22. I suffered tmj for 3 days…tried all the exercises ….finally i got the earwax removed from my ears by coning and all the pain stopped….too much wax

  23. I have a high tolerance for pain, used to use my guard loyally but have been avoiding my bite guard for years. Recently been more stressed then usual and noticing lots of pain. Don’t like going to the Dr. Found this page and I am immediately going to listen to your advice. No more clenching, no more gum/wide chew/jaw movements, relax, use my mouth guard and massage. Thanks.

  24. Thank you! I get flare ups from time to time and I was willing to try anything this time. It worked and I’m able to eat breakfast now.

  25. Thanks for the tutorial. Like you, I’ve suffered from bruxism since childhood, and through practicing anti-aging facial massage and acupressure techniques half-accidentally realised massage may also bring relief to bruxism. I intend to incorporate these techniques to my nightly routine now, hopefully they will help!

  26. Thank you so much for this blog post. I honestly was in so much pain and after watching the video and doing the massages, I literally cried of relief. I’m not implementing a daily regimen in hopes of relieving the pain. Thank you so so much.

  27. Had slight discomfort for a week when opening or closing my jaw in my upper left jaw and just thought it was a pulled muscle so I tried not to overwork my jaw but after a week, still bad, checked this, did the massage thing quick to check it out, thought it was bollocks honestly, afterwards my jaw feels way better, still slight discomfort and pain, but very very slight and way better than earlier, and that was just from a quick massage, thanks

  28. Hi thanks for your technique …I’ve just started to do this massage and already I feel a difference ..have been suffering on and off for over a year now …so hoping this is gonna work to relieve some discomfort ..thanks again.

  29. I’ve been a nail-biter since I was 9. Now I’m 55. I don’t know for sure but I suspect that’s what caused this TMJ in the first place. That’s 46 years of unnatural movement along with severe torque against my very vulnerable jaw. Please tell me if this is a probable cause of this maddening condition. Thank you very much.

  30. Well i’m very disappointed with my first attempt at this jaw massage, mainly because so many people are reporting such stellar results. :(( ill keep trying though.

  31. Actually I was looking for a way to push the little disc back up and into its proper place again because if I can’t then I won’t be able to see a dentist ever again. And I have a tooth that broke off at the gumline and I have to have the rest of it removed by an oral surgeon. So says my dentist or its ‘going to cause me problems’. My jaw won’t open all the way. It just stops. I can’t even get a teaspoon of cereal into my mouth without it spilling all over my face because my mouth doesn’t open enough for the spoon with the cereal on it. Its not like i’m trying to put an entire nabisco shredded wheat biscuit on my spoon either. Just some cocoa pebbles. That should be doable i think.

  32. please answer. 😐
    im seriously tired. ive been like this for two years now.
    oh and one more question, when i go to the dentist, how do i keep my mouth open? because i feel the urge to close it and that its stuck.

  33. Thank you for this video. I have been grinding my teeth at night since I was a kid. In the last year or so I have started grinding my teeth during the day as well. A few years ago I got a splint from my dentist which I wear at night, but I have never heard of massages like these ones until now. I think these massages will make all the difference for me! Thanks!

  34. Just happened upon this while looking up massage techniques for reducing jaw clenching. Followed along with you and… ahhhhh…. immediately felt my jaw relax. 🙂 Will do this before bed, throughout the day, any time I find myself clenching, and first thing when I wake up. Nice and very informative. THANK YOU! 🙂

  35. I have been fighting with TMJ for over 20 years. The other day I did a search for relief and came across a site that has given me total….total relief and it is so simple!

    Smile….biggest showing teeth if you can……lightly clenching your teeth……roll your tongue and put it towards the back of your throat and push up to the top of your mouth. In that position open your jaw.

    I could barely open mine.
    My muscles around my upper neck, jaw, behind my neck were cracking….oh so much relief!

    ……after a few weeks I am feeling much much better.

    p.s. no need to make it hurt….take your time and stretch those muscles.

  36. Like many of the others, I feel empowered, and less anxious DIRECTLY DUE to your wonderful manner, and clear concise expression. It is obvious that you have a gift! Not just for healing, but also for having the wisdom to know what is the right balance between a healthy and humorous DISREGARD for (unproductive) worry, and being flippant! Your joking “curse-words” (just enough) are endearing, when obviously accompanied by a fairly deep (and compassionate) knowledge of your work! There, I think I said it! 😆 Now, get back to work!

  37. I found this info primarily for my daughter but I just tested it on myself and it felt great. Maybe I am more anxious than I think – I am hoping to get my daughter to stop grinding her teeth at night and reduce stress. I feel amazing after trying this so there must be something in this technique. 🙂 Thank you.

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