Is Your Headache Actually Being Caused by TMJ?
Do you get headaches? Not just a little minor brain ache, but the kind of headache that throbs; the kind that knocks out your concentration and makes your day miserable? You might think that these are relatively common, or perhaps that everyone gets them on occasion— but their source is actually pretty surprising.
These kinds of headaches really bite, and it just may be your bite that is to blame! Here we discuss five signs that your headache may be caused by TMJ.
“Pain doesn’t happen randomly or because of bad luck,” says Dr. Fred Abeles, author of the book “Break Away: The New Method for Treating Chronic Headaches, Migraines and TMJ Without Medication.” “There’s a cause and effect to almost everything in the human body.
So that headache that won’t go away? Dr. Abeles insists that it isn’t just hammering in out of nowhere. For many people, that back of the head searing and splitting can be traced back to their teeth, their bite relationship, and the alignment of the lower jaw. In particular, he blames the temporomandibular joint — or TMJ — for many achey culprits. To find it, locate the place at the front of the ear where the lower jaw and the temporal bone on the side of the head meet.
In the best-case scenario, your bite and lower jaw are in alignment. But if not, you’re putting additional strain on your jaw, face, and head muscles… which leads to those TMJ headaches. Masking the pain with medication isn’t going to make them go away. No, says Dr. Abeles, you have to correct the underlying cause.
But before going to some extreme measure, you want to know for sure that your headaches are caused by TMJ, right? Here are some of the warning signs:
- Your jaw clicks or pops. “Any joint in your body should work silently and seamlessly,” Abeles explains. “If your jaw clicks or pops when you open or close it, it’s a clear sign that the lower half of the joint is not in the proper position.” But what if my popping and clicking aren’t painful, you ask? Even so, says the Dr., “the muscles that have to support and stabilize the joint become fatigued and will produce pain,” likely in the form of a headache!
- Your bite feels off. The TMJ is the only joint in the human body that’s opening and closing motion is blocked by 28 teeth — which can complicate things — Abeles says. Every other joint’s position, movement, and range of motion are mediated entirely by muscle, but the TMJ’s position is dictated by where our teeth come together in our bite. So if your bite feels off or your teeth don’t fit together well, there’s a good chance your TMJ joints are off, too.
- You have pain around your forehead, temples, back of head or radiating down your neck. “Ninety percent of pain comes from muscle,” Abeles says. If your muscles are not functioning well because of fatigue from supporting one or both of your TMJ joints in an improper position, they produce pain. “It’s much like when you exercise or work hard and feel muscle pain later… The only difference is that TMJ is more subtle and chronic.”
- You have forward head posture. Our heads are supposed to be centered over our shoulders. If yours is in front of your shoulders when you are upright, you have “forward head posture,” which relates to your bite and your airway. The human head weighs about eight to ten pounds. The farther forward it is off the center axis, the more strain it places on neck muscles and vertebrae.
- You snore. Snoring is a red flag that respiration during sleep is disturbed, Abeles tells us. Several factors can lead to snoring, but one of the most important is the position of the lower jaw, he says. If your lower jaw is a little too far back, then the tongue is farther back as well. “If the tongue is slightly farther back than optimal, it vibrates against our soft palate, closes off our airway and we snore,” Abeles says. The snoring doesn’t necessarily cause the headache, but it could be a sign the lower jaw is too far back causing the muscles that support the jaw to be in an improper position and producing the headache pain.
While the appearance of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily indicate that your headache is caused by TMJ, they are some of the most likely indicators. Consult a medical professional to discuss your options for dealing with jaw or jaw joint disorders.