After working with a few different musicians in these last few weeks, I've realized that almost everyone works with grinding and jaw discomfort, regardless of their instrument. Brooke Thomas' blog about this inspired me to make a few suggestions about TMJ disorder, and give some some self-care remedies that can help.
So first thing first, we all have TMJ, which actually means temporomandibular joint, meaning the joint that connects your skull to your jaw (temporal bone to mandible). If you have pain or an issue with your TMJ, then you either have TMJD or TMD, meaning TMJ disorder or temporomandibular disorder. Musicians (singers, wind players, violinist/violists, and anyone who's a nocturnal teeth grinder) tend to have one sided jaw pain, jaw popping, headaches, earaches, and pain behind the ear, from jaw tension, misalignment of the cartilaginous disc, or excessive playing. TMJ is like tendonitis' ugly stepsister-no one wants to talk about it or address how many singers, wind players, or string players are affected by it. While I can't give you any numbers on this, I do know quite a few of my colleagues who have worked with pain, discomfort, and career thwarting perpetual symptoms.
First of all, please read Brooke's blog on this-she was born with TMJD and worked with pain throughout childhood and early adulthood, avoiding surgery and severe medical attention. One of the basic points she makes is extremely important: "Your jaw is misaligned because your soft tissue-fascia, muscles, tendons, and ligaments-are out of alignment." AKA. Look at the tissue first before getting surgery! She also advocates seeking a Rolfing or Structural Integration practitioner, craniosacral therapist, or acupuncturist, who can all help. Although I have never personally dealt with severe TMJD, I have found all of the above to be helpful in varying degrees, and would definitely recommend them.
These two videos show some ball rolling techniques that I have found to be helpful in managing my own personal jaw discomfort (left side) from viola-ing. Even if you don't have pain in your jaw and you're just checking these out, notice if you have a side of the jaw with more discomfort or tension, as you try these. (If you're a violinist/violist, definitely spend a little longer on that left side. You'll notice that you probably haven't paid it it's due.)
This is part of the traditional Yoga Tune Up® jaw sequence, which feels amazing before bed, or just if you're feeling tense after a day of playing.