UPDATE: For detailed information and practical steps to help you beat TMJ disorder naturally, take a look at TMJ No More.
Nobody likes to experience the pain and discomfort of headaches, especially on a regular basis.
Tension headaches caused by muscle spasm, jaw clenching, stress, fatigue and illness make up 90% of all headaches.
A headache is usually not much cause for alarm for sufferers, or for the physicians treating them but just because they are common, doesn’t mean you should ignore a tension headache - especially if they are happening regularly.
Even doctors may not always understand that there can be much more behind a simple headache.
A recent study has shown that many people who suffer recurrent incidences of tension headache also had underlying TMJ that was contributing to their headache pain. In this study, the sufferers had been diagnosed with chronic tension-related headaches, but they had not been tested for, or diagnosed with TMJ. The researchers took individuals who had been diagnosed with recurrent tension-related headaches, and then they manipulated and examined the temporalis muscle of the subjects, which is the muscle involved in TMJ disorder.
An astonishing 82% of chronic headache sufferers were found to have a reaction to this test that indicated they were actually suffering from underlying TMJ.
TMJ contributes to headaches by causing inflammation, pain and tension around the temporomandibular joint, situated in the top of the jaw between the eye and the ear.
Because of this joints location near the temple at the side of the head, the pain and inflammation in this joint that occurs in TMJ can easily spread out of the joint causing headache.
TMJ also causes tension and tightness in the temporalis muscle, and neck muscles, which can also cause headaches.
The stress and tension caused by the constant discomfort, pain and inflammation associated with TMJ also aggravates tension headaches, worsening a chronic and debilitating condition.
So what is TMJ and how can you tell if TMJ is causing your headaches?
TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder)
Temporomandibular joint disorder (or TMJ for short) is a condition where the temporomandibular joint dysfunctions due to arthritis, dislocation or inflammation, thereby causing a host of painful symptoms.
The temporomandibular joint is the joint that connects the jaw to the skull, just between the eye socket and the ear. TMJ can often produce pain and swelling in this area of the face and muscle spasm and tension in the head, neck and jaw area.
TMJ may seem simple but its symptoms can often be debilitating and stressful to deal with on a daily basis by sufferers.
If you have tension headaches that seem to be returning again and again, check out the list of other symptoms below to see if you could be suffering from TMJ as well.
Signs TMJ could be causing your headaches:
1. Your tension headaches get triggered by temple massage or jaw movement
If your tension headaches are worsened by moving your jaw on purpose, it could be a good indication that you are suffering from TMJ.
In the TMJ pathology, these movements tend to upset the joint and activate inflammation, which causes the pain and headaches associated with TMJ. Another way to test the theory, as used by the investigators in the study mentioned above, is by massaging the temporalis muscle, located above the ear in the area of the temple.
If doing this triggers a tension headache for you, it could be a good sign that you have TMJ.
If you suspect that TMJ may be the culprit, a visit to the doctor will be helpful, where you can express your concerns and they can conduct a similar test to provide you with a formal diagnosis.
2. Your headaches get worse after eating, talking or yawning
While most of us do a lot of talking, eating and yawning on a daily basis as a part of normal life, for a sufferer of TMJ these activities can be fraught with pain and often bring the onset of headaches.
The reason for this is that these activities require a lot of jaw movement which can exacerbate the pain and inflammation in the temporomandibular joint.
This joint actually acts as the hinge on our jaw, which allows the jaw to open and close so every time we open or close the jaw to eat, talk or yawn, we are using the joint.
In acute TMJ, even normal usage of the joint can cause pain, inflammation and headaches due to the joint damage, and one of the most important things to do when suffering from TMJ initially is to limit talking, chewing and yawning by choosing soft foods, avoiding gum and resting the jaw from excess talking and yawning where possible.
If you find that your headaches worsen after performing the daily activities of eating, talking and yawning, then it may be beneficial to investigate the possibility of TMJ.
3. You also have pain, tenderness and swelling in the jaw area
If you are suffering from recurrent headaches, and you also have pain, swelling, redness and inflammation in the area of the temporomandibular joint, which is between the eye socket and ear, then the combination of these symptoms can be another sign of underlying temporomandibular joint disorder.
The pain and tension associated with TMJ can also spread to the muscles in the neck and head, causing muscle spasms and tightness in these areas.
There can also be redness and a warm feeling in the jaw, which are signs of inflammation in that area caused by the damage and friction in the joint.
Ear ache can also be caused by TMJ, due to the proximity of the joint to the ear.
If you experience any of these symptoms along with your headaches, it could be indicative that you are suffering from TMJ.
4. You experience ‘jaw clicking’ or a grating feeling while chewing
A noticeable sensation or sound of the jaw clicking or grating with movement is a sign there could be damage in the temporomandibular joint, which is a contributing factor of TMJ disorder.
Clicking and grating sounds or feelings coming from joints is a sign that joint damage or arthritis is present.
As joints become damaged, the surface of smooth cartilage that protects the ends of the bones wears out, causing friction when the bones move as the unprotected surfaces of the bone rub together.
The effect is very unpleasant, causing inflammation, pain, redness and swelling in the joint area, as well as contributing to the other signs and symptoms of TMJ.
Other Factors to Consider
Even if you find a correlation between many of your symptoms and the ones listed above, it’s important to seek the help of a doctor, or better yet a TMJ specialist if you experience recurring headaches along with jaw pain.
Other conditions with similar symptoms include fibromyalgia, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, IBS and trigeminal neuralgia, amongst others.
There’s no reason to suffer in silence.
Address the cause of your chronic headaches and relieve your symptoms by being assessed for TMJ by a professional.
With a range of holistic treatment and management options available today, TMJ sufferers can reduce painful and incapacitating symptoms and live a better quality of life with the help of good nutrition, relaxation, physical therapy and medical intervention if necessary.