What to Stop Doing If You Have TMJ

The joint that connects your jaw to your skull is your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The pain related to this joint is commonly referred to as TMJ—more technically, it's called a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). This condition can limit your enjoyment of normal activities such as eating, drinking, or having a simple conversation.

If you have TMJ, your physical therapist (PT) will work with you to decrease your pain and improve the way your jaw works. He or she will also tell you which activities to avoid if you have TMJ. What should you stop doing if you have TMJ, and how can avoiding these things help you fully recover?

Things to avoid with TMJ pain
Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell.


Your temporomandibular joint is the articulation between your mandible and your temporal bone of your skull. The TMJ is your jaw joint, and it is used every day while eating, drinking, and talking. There is a small disc in the joint that allows the bones of your jaw to slip and slide normally.

Sometimes the disc in your TMJ can become displaced and lead to clicking, snapping, and limited jaw movement.

It can also cause pain in your jaw and face, and the muscles around your jaw may become sore or go into spasm. Treatment for TMJ involves exercises to help keep your jaw moving normally, anti-inflammatory treatments, joint mobilizations, and treatments to keep your muscles working properly. A splint or night guard can also help with nighttime teeth grinding (bruxism), which can be a cause of muscle soreness and TMJ.

In severe cases, you may need surgery to correct your problem. Surgery, however, is saved as a last resort. Your initial treatment should focus on decreasing pain and improving the way your jaw opens and closes. Avoiding certain activities can help accomplish this task.

What to Avoid

Activities to avoid when you have TMJ are often called parafunctional activities. That means that the activity is not actually necessary to get through your day-to-day life. They are things that you may do for fun or enjoyment, or they may be things that you do subconsciously while doing other activities.

By avoiding parafunctional activities, you can help limit the stress to your temporomandibular joint and allow for things to heal properly. Your PT can help determine what you should be avoiding if you have TMJ.


Avoid Chewing Gum

Chewing gum can be an enjoyable activity, but if you have TMJ, you should avoid it. Why? Your jaw is the most used joint in the body. When you have TMJ, limiting excessive use of your jaw joint and muscles can help keep pressure off of them and give your jaw a chance to rest. Resting sore muscles and joints is the first step in getting your TMJ symptoms to settle down.


Avoid Eating Hard Foods

Bagels are tasty, but they are also tough on the jaw muscles and joints. If you have jaw pain due to TMJ, you should avoid eating hard foods like bagels and apples. These foods may place excessive stress through your jaw, thus preventing the joint from getting the necessary rest to allow for proper healing to occur.


Avoid Non-Functional Jaw Activites

As we go through each day, we often do things with our jaws out of habit or unconsciously. While reading or writing, we may carelessly chew on a pencil. Some people bite their fingernails or chew carelessly on small bits of clothing while watching TV or browsing the internet. Children may suck their thumbs.

These parafunctional activities may place stress on your TMJ and slow the healing process.

If you have TMJ pain, be aware of and avoid the things that you may be doing with your mouth and jaw that are not totally necessary.


Avoid Resting Your Head on Your Chin

Many people rest their heads in their hands while studying, browsing social media, or watching TV. This position may be comfortable, but it can put your jaw out of whack if your head is resting on your chin.

This offset load against the side of your jaw may push against the joint, moving the joint's disc out of place and creating problems with the way your jaw opens and closes. Avoiding resting your chin on your hand can allow your joint to heal properly in the right place.


Avoid Chewing Only on One Side

Humans are creatures of habit, and many of us chew our food on one side of our mouth or the other. This can stress out one side of your temporomandibular joint and surrounding muscles, leading to pain and joint dysfunction.

Try to be aware of your chewing habits and make sure you consume food on both sides of your mouth. If you have dental problems or tooth pain on one side, be sure to see your dentist to have things corrected so you can chew evenly and comfortably.


Try to Stop Clenching Your Teeth

Bruxism is the medical term for clenching one's teeth together. This may occur during the day or while sleeping.

This can be a real problem if you have TMJ, as teeth clenching can place incredible stress through your jaw's muscles.

Teeth clenching may occur due to stress, so working to manage your stress may help with this. Your dentist may also prescribe a mouth guard to be worn while you sleep to keep your teeth from excessively clenching.


Stop Slouching

Did you know that the function of your jaw is closely related to your posture? Your jaw operates best when your head is situated above your cervical spine and your posture is upright. If you slouch, this can change the way your jaw's muscles work and the way your jaw opens and closes.

Your physical therapist may work with you to change your posture if you have TMJ. This may involve strengthening your back and shoulder muscles and setting frequent reminders to sit up tall. Performing a slouch-overcorrect exercise is a great way to develop an awareness of proper posture. Sitting and standing upright and avoiding slouching can keep your jaw operating properly.


Stop Waiting to Get Treatment

Many people with musculoskeletal problems simply wait for the pain and limited motion to go away. But if you are having problems with your jaw joint (the most used joint in the body), you should not wait to get treatment. TMJ is more often than not self-limiting and non-progressive and has a good rate of recovery with conservative treatment—meaning there's all the more reason to seek help without delay.

See your doctor or dentist for an accurate diagnosis if you suspect TMJ. You may benefit from visiting a physical therapist to learn exercises and strategies to self-treat your condition. An orofacial pain specialist (dental specialist) is also an option.

A Word From Verywell

Temporomandibular joint disorders can be a painful experience that limit your ability to use your jaw and mouth normally. It's important to avoid or stop certain activities that are placing excessive or unnecessary stress on your jaw. Doing the right things, at the right time, can help you safely manage and heal your condition.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Kraus, S., & Prodoehl, J. (2017). Outcomes and patient satisfaction following individualized physical therapy treatment for patients diagnosed with temporomandibular disc displacement without reduction with limited opening: A cross-sectional study. CRANIO, 1-8. DOI: 10.1080/08869634.2017.1379260