Painful headaches and migraines might be common, but they can still be a real source of annoyance and discomfort. A moderate or severe headache can make it difficult to function. Migraine headaches can result from a lack of sleep, dehydration, and chronic stress. One of the things that many people do not realize is that a headache is also a common symptom of a temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ disorder. How do you know if your headache is TMJ-related? And what does a TMJ headache feel like? Keep reading this guide to find the answers you need.
An Overview of Common TMJ Symptoms
The cause of TMJ disorder varies from one person to another. However, the symptoms and signs are similar if you are dealing with TMJ.
- Pain in the jaw area
- Pain in one or both TMJ
- Ringing pain in the ear
- Facial pain
- Pain while chewing
- Locking of the jaw or pain when closing or opening the mouth
- Migraine headaches
Signs TMJ Is Causing Your Headaches
How do you know if TMJ causes your headache? Since several factors cause headaches, it is challenging to pinpoint TMJ as the reason for this pain. However, there are some signs could indicate your headache is TMJ-related, and here are some of them.
1. Identify the Source of the Headache
Determining the source of the headache pain is the best way to assess if it is TMJ-related. Suppose your migraine is due to TMJ disorder. In that case, it typically starts at the jaw area (or the location of the temporomandibular joint), back of the neck, behind the eyes, and the forehead. From there, the pain usually spreads to the rest of your head.
If you have a history of migraine headaches, TMJ can cause the pain to increase in severity and frequency. The presence of other symptoms can also indicate that your headache is associated with TMJ, such as when you suffer from “lockjaw,” or you hear a popping sound in your jaw joint.
2. Jaw Activity Triggers Headache
Do you suffer from migraine headaches after intense jaw activity? If yes, then your headache is TMJ-related.
The most common jaw activities that trigger headache pain are opening your mouth too wide, chewing hard foods, and other activities that involve the jaw muscles. Headache pains tend to occur after performing these activities for an extended time. If pain is already present, performing these jaw-related activities can worsen that pain.
3. Restricted Movement in the Jaw (or Pain Resulting From It)
Since TMJ headaches are linked to the jaw joints, you will notice pain when you move your jaw, or your range of motion is restricted. TMJ typically manifests in the jaw area first or around the same time that other symptoms appear.
If you have a headache accompanied by pain in the jaw, this could indicate that TMJ is the cause of your migraine. Restricted jaw movement is also another symptom. The pain and limited range of motion are due to the joint’s cushioning disk being out of place. An out-of-place disk can interfere with the motion of the jaw, which also results in pain.
4. You Clench Your Teeth
Teeth clenching is a habit that is commonly associated with bruxism and TMJ disorders. Frequent clenching of the teeth can cause migraine headaches. This habit can also cause your teeth to become misaligned over time. When your teeth are misaligned, you are prone to suffer from headaches.
If you are experiencing headaches before, during, or after you clench your teeth, it is probably caused by TMJ.
5. Pain in the Neck and Facial Muscles
TMJ headaches are not just linked to the jaw joints. They can also manifest in your head’s different parts, such as your facial muscles and neck. You know that your headache is TMJ-related if you feel pain in the neck and facial muscles.
Many people mistake this for a tension headache because the pain radiates from within the skull. However, your jaw muscles are connected to the neck and face, which explains why you can also experience pain with migraine headaches from TMJ.
6. Conventional Headache Remedies Don’t Work
TMJ headaches won’t go away with conventional remedies or medication, unlike other headaches. The headache will reoccur unless the cause of the TMJ is corrected. Get your jaws checked if you have a nagging headache that won’t go away.
What Does a TMJ Headache Feel Like?
Migraine headaches are among the most common symptoms experienced by people with TMJ disorder. The headache can significantly impact your productivity at work and cause you to suffer significant discomfort. The pain can be moderate to severe and comes with other symptoms.
A TMJ migraine affects the trigeminal nerve that controls the teeth and jaw function. An inflammation of this nerve can affect other areas linked to that nerve, such as the face, tongue, throat, neck, head, and hands.
Tips to Ease Migraine Headaches
Depending on the severity of the migraine headache, there are many steps to ease the pain. You can effectively manage most cases of migraines without medical intervention. Here are some tips to alleviate migraine headaches caused by TMJ:
- Stress Management – Manage the pain by performing stress management techniques such as breathing exercises, yoga, and mindfulness meditation.
- Lifestyle Changes – You can ease migraine headaches by changing your behaviors and lifestyle choices, like not chewing gum, not biting your nails, and not eating hard foods.
- Massage – Relax your muscles by massaging your temples.
- Warm or Cold Compress – Apply a warm or cold compress to the forehead or back of the neck to relieve the pain from migraine headaches.
While there are remedies to ease migraine headaches, even those associated with TMJ, you should know your limits. See a specialist when the headache occurs more frequently, and the pain progresses over time. You can see a sleep doctor who can look at issues like bruxism or teeth clenching and how it affects your jaw health. You may also consult with your dentist, who can perform diagnostic tests to assess your jaw health and if the misalignment in your teeth can be attributed to TMJ disorder.
You should never take migraine headaches or TMJ disorder lightly, no matter how common. It is essential to get the proper care to ease the pain.