Headaches and TMJ

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What is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint connects the jaw to the skull. If there is an injury to this joint or it becomes damaged, it can cause TMJ syndrome. TMJ can also be caused by a misalignment of the teeth, gum chewing, arthritis, teeth grinding or jaw injury. Symptoms of this TMJ disorder include pain in the jaw, jaw popping, headaches, sore jaw muscles, locking of the jaw, pain in the temple and earache. Because the temporomandibular joint is a complex and important structure composed of bones, tendons, and muscles, you may have pain on one or both sides of the jaw.

Diagnosing TMJ disorder

There is no specific method of diagnosing TMJ. A physician will take your medical history and do an exam. Your physician may also send you to a dentist specializing in jaw disorders or to an otolaryngologist. Your symptoms may be due to a condition known as trigeminal neuralgia, salivary gland disease or even swollen lymph nodes. The idea is to rule out other medical problems.

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The connection between TMJ and headaches

Due to the complexity of the jawbone, TMJ can cause a number of side effects, including headaches. These headaches are often referred to as temporomandibular disorders (TMDs). Because these headaches result from tension and stress in the jaw, they can feel similar to tension headaches, and they often cause pain on the sides and very top of the head. Additional symptoms of a TMJ headache include:

  • Tight and/or painful facial or jaw muscles
  • A “clicking” or “popping” noise when opening and closing the mouth
  • Limited jaw mobility
  • Changes in your bite or teeth alignment

Home remedies and treatment for TMJ syndrome

Sometimes, home remedies can relieve the symptoms of TMJ syndrome. Some people respond well to over-the-counter meds like ibuprofen and aspirin. Ice packs applied to the jaw joint may also help. Sedative essential oils, such as clary sage and lavender, may give temporary relief. 

When home remedies don’t work, medical treatment may be needed. A jaw specialist may use a dental splint to keep teeth properly aligned and to prevent tooth grinding. Other types of medical treatment include trigger point acupuncture, joint replacement or a TMJ arthroscopy. Muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatory meds may be prescribed.

Physical therapy to treat TMJ

Physical therapy is effective in the treatment of TMJ. A physical therapist will analyze your jaw mobility and release muscle tension in the neck and head area. A comprehensive evaluation is done of the neck, shoulder girdle and thoracic spine to determine if those structures are causing your symptoms. The goal of physical therapy is to restore the interaction of the muscles and joints and to restore normal function.

Treatment for TMJ may include the follow methods:

  • Soft tissue massage
  • Joint mobilization
  • Myofascial techniques
  • Jaw exercises

Electric stimulation and ultrasound may be used to decrease muscle tension and provide pain relief. In addition, a physical therapist can educate you on dietary changes that will decrease stress on the jaw joint. When physical therapists treat patients with TMJ, the goal is to improve mobility and alignment along with strengthening the muscles. And if the patient has scar tissue, the therapist can help treat that too.

Are you having difficulty chewing or yawning? Do you have jaw pain or constant headaches? Do you hear a clicking noise when you open and shut your mouth? These may all be signs of TMJ syndrome. Don’t suffer anymore. A physical therapist can help you manage and eliminate symptoms.  Request an appointment or free screening at Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, East Kalamazoo, Holland, Mattawan, Midtown (Downtown Kalamazoo), Plainwell,  Portage, Richland, Schoolcraft, and Three Rivers clinics to schedule a one-on-one consultation and a complete, thorough evaluation. Our physical therapists have helped many who suffer from TMJ disorder and can help you too. We are patient-centric and committed to your health.

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