8 Things That Make TMJ Worse

What Not to Do If You Have TMJ

Whether you experience tenderness and aching or significant pain and jaw locking due to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), avoiding things that make TMJ worse is an important part of managing your condition and reducing flare-ups.

The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to your skull. You use it every day while eating, drinking, and talking. A small disc in the joint allows the bones of your jaw to slip and slide normally.

With TMJ, the disc becomes displaced, leading 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. Anything that stresses or overworks the joint can prompt and worsen these TMJ symptoms.

This article looks at what not to do if you have TMJ. By following these strategies, you can avoid aggravating the joint and help keep TMJ pain in check.

Things to avoid with TMJ pain
Verywell / JR Bee.

Avoid Chewing Gum

You may enjoy chewing gum, but if you have TMJ, you should avoid it.

Your jaw is the most used joint in the body. Limiting excessive use of the joint and muscles alleviates pressure and gives them 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. When 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.

Avoid Non-Functional Jaw Activites

As we go through each day, we often do things with our jaws unconsciously or out of habit.

  • While reading or writing, you may mindlessly chew on a pen.
  • You may bite your fingernails or chew 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.

Avoid Resting on Your Chin

Many people rest their jaw in their hands while studying, browsing social media, or watching TV. This position may be comfortable, but it can affect your jaw.

This pressure against the side of your jaw may push against the joint, moving the disc out of place and creating problems with how your jaw opens and closes.

Breaking the habit of resting your chin on your hand can allow your joint to heal 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 TMJ 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, see your dentist to get it fixed so you can chew evenly and comfortably.

Try to Stop Clenching Your Teeth

Bruxism is the medical term for clenching your teeth together. This may occur during the day or while sleeping. This can be a real problem when 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 the function of your jaw is closely related to posture?

Your jaw operates best when your head is above your cervical spine and your posture is upright. If you slouch, it can change how your jaw muscles work and the way your jaw opens and closes.

When you're treated for TMJ, your physical therapist may work with you to change your posture. 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 (goes away on its own) 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 healthcare provider 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.


Treatment for TMJ involves:

  • Exercises to get your jaw moving normally
  • Anti-inflammatory treatments
  • Joint mobilizations
  • 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. However, it's 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.

A Word From Verywell

Temporomandibular joint disorders can be painful and limit your ability to use your jaw and mouth. It's important to avoid or stop activities that place excessive or unnecessary stress on your jaw. Doing the right things can help you safely heal and manage your condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes TMJ to flare-up?

    Stress, which can make you clench your jaw, can cause a TMJ flare. Other possible causes include:

    • Dentist appointments
    • Eating hard food (like apples, bagels, corn on the cob, and steak)
    • Jaw injury
    • Habits like grinding your teeth of biting your nails
  • Can exercise make TMJ worse?

    Not directly, no. But if you clench your jaw from exertion or work out with improper form, you may aggravate your jaw and neck muscles, which can make TMJ pain worse. This shouldn't stop you from treating your TMJ with recommended jaw exercises. When performed properly, they should be helpful and not cause pain.

  • How long does a TMJ episode last?

    Typically, a TMJ flare lasts between a few days to a few weeks. Being gentle with your jaw can help it settle down.

  • Will my TMJ ever go away?

    For most people, minor TMJ eventually goes away, even without treatment. More advanced cases, like those involving pain while chewing and the jaw locking, generally require treatment to resolve.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.