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Things that Make TMJ Worse and Ways to Manage It

why is my tmj getting worse
Dr. Garrett Stroup. Physical Therapist in Roseburg Area.


Dr. Garrett C. Stroup

DPT, VRC - Owner and Founder

We help athletes and active adults regain control of their injury without expensive surgeries or medications, so they can keep going.


Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) represents a significant challenge for many, characterized by discomfort and dysfunction in the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movement. The complexity of TMJ symptoms—ranging from mild discomfort to severe jaw pain—necessitates a proactive approach to management. This blog aims to shed light on the various things that make TMJ worse and provides practical strategies to prevent these issues, helping sufferers find relief and improve their quality of life.

What is TMJ Disorder, and What Causes It?

The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) plays a pivotal role in basic jaw movements such as chewing, speaking, and yawning. TMJ disorder is a condition that causes pain and dysfunction in this joint and its surrounding muscles. Studies indicate that the prevalence of temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMJD) is between 5% and 12% in chronic pains, highlighting its significance as a health concern. 

The origins of TMJ disorders are multifaceted, involving a combination of factors such as genetics, arthritis, jaw injury, or misalignment. Stress is also a significant contributor, leading to habits like clenching and grinding of teeth, which can further aggravate this painful condition. Understanding the causes and triggers is the first step toward effective management.

These are the Things that Make TMJ Worse and Ways to Manage It

These are the Things that Make TMJ Worse and Ways to Manage It

Clenching and Grinding Your Teeth

This habit, known medically as bruxism, is surprisingly common, with approximately 15% of the population grinding their teeth during sleep. It can significantly worsen TMJ symptoms, leading to a TMJ flare-up. The constant excessive pressure and movement can damage the jaw joint and lead to muscle tension. This not only aggravates the TMJ but also contributes to a cycle of pain and discomfort that can be challenging to break.

How to Manage: Stress management is key. Consider yoga, meditation, or any relaxing activities. Using a custom-fit night guard or mouth guard can also protect your teeth and reduce the strain on your jaw.

Nervous Chewing

Habitual gum chewing or biting on objects puts continuous stress on the TMJ, potentially leading to a flare-up. 

How to Manage: Replace this habit with non-chewing stress-relief methods like stress balls or hand exercises. Becoming mindful of your chewing and actively stopping yourself can also help.

Chewing Only One Side

This chewing habit can lead to uneven jaw muscle development and strain, worsening TMJ disorder. 

How to Manage: Make a conscious effort to distribute chewing evenly between both sides of your mouth. Jaw-strengthening exercises can also promote balance and reduce discomfort.

Eating Hard Foods

Crunchy, tough foods like tough meat require more force to chew. This can put additional pressure on the TMJ and potentially worsen symptoms. The effort needed to break down these types of foods can strain the jaw, worsen discomfort, and contribute to flare-ups of TMJ disorder.

How to Manage: Opt for a soft food diet and cut foods into smaller pieces to minimize the effort required to chew. This simple change can have a significant impact on managing TMJ discomfort.

Using Teeth As Tools

Opening packages or holding items between your teeth can apply unnatural forces to the TMJ, risking damage and discomfort. 

How to Manage: Always reach for the proper tool instead of using your teeth. This not only protects your TMJ but also prevents tooth damage.

Slouching or Poor Posture

There’s a surprising link between posture and TMJ health. Bad posture habits can lead to neck pain and jaw strain, especially while sitting or standing.

How to Manage: Focus on maintaining a neutral spine position and adjust your workstation to support good posture. Regular reminders and posture exercises can reinforce healthy habits.

Overused Jaw

Activities that require constant jaw movements, like excessive talking or chewing, can tire the muscles and make TMJ symptoms worse. 

How to Manage: Give your jaw regular breaks throughout the day. If your profession requires a lot of talking, consider exercises to strengthen your jaw muscles and techniques to use your voice with less strain.

Non-Functional Jaw Activities

Habits such as pencil chewing or biting on foreign objects can unknowingly stress the TMJ. 

How to Manage: Awareness is the first step. Substitute these habits with healthier alternatives that don’t involve the jaw, such as squeezing a stress ball.

Resting Your Chin on Your Hand

This common posture can misalign your jaw over time, placing unnecessary stress on the TMJ.

How to Manage: Be mindful of your posture, especially during prolonged periods of sitting. Use ergonomic furniture that encourages proper alignment.

Lip Chewing and Nail Biting

These habits can not only stress the TMJ but also introduce bacteria and lead to dental issues.

How to Manage: Identify triggers that prompt these habits and address them directly. Replacement habits, like chewing sugar-free gum briefly (if not contraindicated), can also help.

Sleeping On Your Stomach

This sleeping position can place your neck and jaw in an awkward alignment, straining the TMJ.

How to Manage: Transitioning to back or side sleeping positions with the aid of supportive pillows can alleviate unnecessary stress on the TMJ.

Ignoring Proper Treatment

Disregarding TMJ symptoms can lead to chronic pain and functional impairments. 

How to Manage: Early intervention is crucial. Consult with a healthcare provider for a tailored treatment option that may include physical therapy, dental splints, or other modalities.

If You’re Having a Hard Time with TMJ, Oregon Mobile PT Can Help You

tmj treatment

Oregon Mobile Physical Therapy stands ready to assist those battling TMJ disorder, such as individuals who always wonder, “why is my tmj getting worse?”. With a focus on patient-centered care, we offer physical therapy Roseburg, Oregon, that caters to the unique needs of each individual. Our holistic approach not only addresses the symptoms but also targets the underlying causes of TMJ disorder, ensuring long-lasting relief and improved jaw function.


Living with TMJ disorder can be challenging, but understanding and managing the triggers that worsen your symptoms can make a significant difference. Individuals can significantly reduce the impact of TMJ disorder on their daily lives by taking proactive steps to address habits such as teeth clenching, chewing on one side, and maintaining good posture. 

Seeking professional guidance and therapy can further support individuals in their journey toward relief and improved jaw function. With a comprehensive approach that includes lifestyle modifications, stress management, and tailored TMJ treatment, it is possible to find comfort and regain control over TMJ disorder.


What Causes TMJ Flare-Up?

A TMJ flare-up can be triggered by stress, improper jaw usage, physical trauma, or even dietary habits. Identifying personal triggers is essential for effective management.

What Activities to Avoid with TMJ?

Avoid activities that cause unnecessary strain on the jaw, such as chewing gum, eating hard foods, and using your teeth as tools. Be mindful of common habits like grinding and chronic clenching of teeth, especially during periods of high stress.

How Can TMJ Get Worse?

Neglecting the symptoms of TMJ or failing to address the root causes of the disorder can lead to a progressive worsening of symptoms. Consistent management and treatment adherence are key to preventing the condition from deteriorating.

What Does a TMJ Flare-Up Feel Like?

Experiencing a TMJ flare-up can vary among individuals, but it typically involves increased jaw pain or discomfort, difficulty in chewing or opening the mouth, a clicking or popping sound when moving the jaw, and sometimes even headaches or earaches. The intensity of these symptoms can significantly impact daily activities, making it essential to understand and apply effective management strategies.

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