Your Headache May Be TMJ

An occasional headache can interrupt your day and make it difficult to function, and a recurring headache can negatively affect your personal and professional life as well as your overall health. When you get a headache, you may think about noise and stimulation, posture, eye strain, or other factors. What you might not consider is your jawbone — the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) — but TMJ disorders may be the main cause behind many recurring headaches.

TMJ and how it causes headaches

TMJ is the name of the joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull. The causes of TMJ disorders can vary. Sometimes the joint doesn’t move smoothly due to tension in the muscles, arthritis, injury, jaw clenching, or teeth grinding. Over time, this can result in moderate-to-severe jaw pain, aching around your ear, and difficulty chewing or swallowing. It can also affect sleep and cause headaches.

Exactly how TMJ causes headaches are still being researched, but it’s thought the tension in the muscles around the jaw may promote headaches. A recent study found that symptoms of  tension headache could be reproduced by stimulating the TMJ during a physical examination.

Unfortunately, until now tension headaches were not associated with TMJ. This meant that some people who suffer from TMJ-related tension headaches have not gotten the help they need to reduce their headaches. But with a proper diagnosis from Dr. William Schiro here at Michigan Maxillofacial Surgery and Implant Center, you can get treatment and relief.

The prevalence of headaches with TMJ

Almost a third of people who suffer from TMJ report symptoms of headaches. TMJ pain and disorders tend to be common, with about 10% of people suffering TMJ pain and nearly half of Americans having some form of TMJ disorder during their lives. This means that if you have unexplained tension headaches, it’s worth considering whether you have an undiagnosed TMJ problem.

TMJ headaches without other symptoms

Headaches that stem from a temporomandibular joint disorder usually occur with other TMJ symptoms, such as pain in the jaw or face, limited jaw movement, tenderness, or a popping sound when you move your jaw. However, it’s possible for tension headaches to be the only symptom of TMJ or for you to overlook other symptoms if a headache overshadows them.

When you come in to see Dr. Schiro, he’ll do a thorough exam and may obtain imaging tests, such as an MRI or X-rays, to help him get to the bottom of your symptoms.  

Your treatment options

The good news is that TMJ disorders tend to respond well to treatment. Often, the disorder will go away with behavior changes, such as changing your eating habits and avoiding excessive gum chewing or sucking on mints.

You may also consider physical or cognitive therapy. A cognitive therapist can teach you to relax your jaw muscles and interrupt grinding, while a physical therapist can help align your jaw and strengthen your muscles.

If behavioral changes don’t help resolve your headaches, medication can reduce pain. These can range from over-the-counter anti-inflammatories to prescription muscle relaxants, antidepressants, and antiepileptic agents.

Finally, in extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to fix the problem and eliminate your discomfort. While surgery is often considered a last resort for TMJ disorders, it does have a high rate of success at relieving symptoms and fixing their underlying cause.

If you suffer from unexplained headaches, a visit with Dr. Schiro can help determine if TMJ problems may be an underlying cause. Call one of our offices in Lansing or St. Johns, Michigan,  to schedule an appointment.

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