Best Exercises for Trismus

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on March 05, 2023
3 min read

Trismus, also known as lockjaw, is caused by trauma or injury to the mastication (chewing) muscles. You need your mastication muscles for chewing your food and opening your mouth. Without it, it would be hard to talk, eat, brush your teeth, or swallow.

Trismus usually resolves itself in less than two weeks, but it can be very painful in the meantime. Permanent trismus can occur too. Whether trismus is around for days or months, daily exercises and massaging can ease the pain. 

If you suffer from trismus, you know it can make eating, talking, and oral hygiene very difficult. It’s important to exercise your jaw to help it get stronger. Static stretching (holding a stretch) is a good way to test the limits of your jaw mobility; however, passive motion (moving parts of your body) used several times per day has proven to be very effective in reducing inflammation and pain.

However, if exercising and stretching don’t help, talk to your doctor or another medical professional. Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, and steroids are usually the next step.

The goal of these exercises is to create movement in your jaw muscles to prevent inflammation and pain. The stretching exercises can be repeated multiple times a day, and consist of opening and closing your mouth. 

Before you begin these exercises, massage your jaw muscles using your pointer and middle finger on your cheek bone. Run your fingers down your masseter muscle (muscle on the side of your face), which connects your jaw bone to your skull. Move your fingers in a circular motion for 30 seconds, two to three times a day. This motion helps loosen your jaw.

Active Jaw Stretching Exercise

These movements will stretch your jaw muscles, but shouldn’t cause pain. If you experience pain, do a lighter stretch. 

Step 1: Hold your head still and open your mouth as wide as is comfortable for you. Hold for 10 seconds. 

Step 2: Move your lower jaw to the left, hold for three seconds. 

Step 3: Move your lower jaw to the right, hold for three seconds. 

Step 4: Move your lower jaw in a circle to the left. 

Step 5: Move your lower jaw in a circle to the right. 

Repeat five times, and do these three times a day. 

Passive Stretching Exercise

This exercise is meant to lightly stretch your jaw muscles, to relieve trismus pain.  

Step 1: Put your thumb on your top teeth in the middle of your jaw. 

Step 2: Put the index finger of your other hand on your bottom teeth in the middle of your jaw. 

Step 3: Open your mouth as wide as possible, using your fingers to give extra resistance. Hold this stretch for five to 10 seconds. Stop if you feel pain. 

Repeat this five times. 

Chin Tucks 

Keeping good posture will help keep your neck and shoulders flexible. This exercise will reduce tension and improve your movements.  

Step 1: While looking forward, pull your chin into your chest. 

Step 2: Pull your head back to a resting position, so your ears are in line with your shoulders. 

Hold this stretch for three seconds, repeat five times. 

Neck Stretch

Stretching the neck is another way to improve posture and reduce tension in your neck and jaw muscles. Try this neck stretch to see if it helps: 

Step 1: Bend your head forward then backward. 

Step 2: Turn your head to the right and then the left. 

Step 3: Slowly bend your head, pulling your ear to your shoulder while keeping your shoulder relaxed, as far as possible. Stop if you feel pain. Repeat on the other side. 

Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, and repeat five times. 

Trismus can be very painful, and have many impacts on your day to day health. If these exercises become painful, stop immediately and switch to simply massaging your jaw bones. In extremely painful cases, talk to your doctor or a physical therapist.

Along with the exercises above, make sure you’re keeping good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth and tongue three times a day, cleaning removable dental pieces, and flossing your teeth before bed.

Also, be aware of clenching your jaw in stress or out of habit. Try to keep your jaw muscles relaxed for best results.