Watercolor image of a face and deconstructed jaw, tmj causing a migraine

How Can TMJ Disorder Cause Migraine Headaches?

Temporomandibular joint disorder and migraines are two common health conditions that can significantly impact your quality of life. Can TMJ cause Migraines?! We will be diving in to this question and begin to understand the relationship between the two! TMJ disorders, or temporomandibular joint disorders, affect the joint that connects your jawbone to your skull. This disorder can cause a range of symptoms, including jaw pain, headaches, and possibly even migraines.

Migraines are a type of headache that can cause severe pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and other debilitating symptoms. While TMJ disorders and migraines are two separate conditions, they can be related. In this article, we will explore the connection between TMJ disorders and migraines, the symptoms and causes of each condition, and the treatment options available to manage them.

Understanding the relationship between these two conditions can help you identify potential triggers and seek appropriate treatment to manage your chronic pain. So pull up a chair and lets take a bite off this complex topic.

What is TMJ Disorder?

So, let’s dive into the first topic: what exactly is are temporomandibular disorders (TMJ disorders)? Basically, your temporomandibular joint is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull, and a TMJ disorder can occur when there is an issue with this joint and the jaw muscles. Some common tmj symptoms include:

  • jaw pain
  • difficulty opening or closing your mouth
  • clicking or popping sounds when you move your jaw

Now, you may be wondering, what causes TMJ disorders? Well, there are several factors that can contribute to this condition, such as:

  • teeth grinding
  • clenching
  • trauma to the jaw
  • arthritis
  • congenital malformations
  • stress
  • Injury to the jaw

Sometimes, the symptoms of TMJ problems can also lead to painful headaches, especially those that occur on the side of your head. In fact, some people refer to these as “TMJ headaches” because they are often caused by issues with the jaw joint. TMJ dysfunctino can cause frequent headaches

If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of a TMJ disorder, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you identify the cause of your pain and recommend appropriate treatment options. We will get into some of the treatment options later in this post.

What are Migraines?

Moving on to the next topic, let’s talk about migraine pain. Now, we’ve all had a headache at some point in our lives, but migraine symptoms are a different ballgame altogether. Migraines are a type of headache that can cause severe pain, typically on one side of the head. They can also cause sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, vomiting, and other unpleasant symptoms.

There are actually several different types of headaches, but migraines are the most common type of headache that cause people to seek medical attention.

Migraine attacks can be triggered by a variety of factors:

  • stress
  • hormonal changes
  • certain foods or drinks
  • changes in the weather
  • caffeine use

There is a number of different theories on where pain from migraines generates from, however no one knows definitively. Some believe it is from the dura matter, the protective layer around your brain and spinal cord, which has a number of pain nerve fibers embedded in it. However, there is also evidence that muscular involvement from the head and neck can be involved as well as blood vessel dilation and nerve involvement.

Watercolor image of a face and deconstructed jaw, tmj causing a migraine

How are TMJ disorders and Migraines Related?

So, what’s the connection between TMJ disorders and migraines? A study performed in 2001 found that there is a relation in reported headaches and TMJ disorder symptoms. There is a number of postulated theories, as to why. One is the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensation in the face and head, is closely linked to both the jaw joint and the blood vessels in the brain. This means that when there is an issue with the jaw joint, it can cause irritation to the trigeminal nerve, which can then lead to migraines. On the other hand, migraines can also cause or exacerbate TMJ disorders by causing muscle tension and jaw clenching.

Another article seeked to explain this relationship by postulating that the masticatory muscles, which are responsible for chewing and moving the jaw, may generate nociceptive impulses (nerve inputs) into the central nervous system. This means that they can be a source of peripheral sensitization, which promotes pain chonicity, including migraine. Dysfunction of the masticatory muscles may reflect central sensitization and disturbance of efferent pain control, leading to chronic pain and frequent migraines.

As an osteopathic physician and putting my hands on many migraine suffers with and without tmj, there does seem to be a significant relationship to the two. If you are someone who has migraines and tmj disorder, many migraines will not get better unless you treat the tmj disorder. There also can be a relationship if you have fascial restrictions in the tissues of your head, neck and jaw.

Treating TMJ Disorders and Migraines

If you’re struggling with TMJ disorder and migraines, there are various tmj treatment options available to alleviate your symptoms and headache pain. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve function, and enhance the quality of life. Here are some options that you may find helpful:

  1. Lifestyle Changes: Lifestyle changes such as reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and avoiding certain foods can help relieve symptoms associated with TMJ disorders and migraines. You may find that keeping a journal to track your symptoms can help identify triggers.
  2. Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine: Treatment performed by specially trained physicians can improve you symptoms of TMJ disorder and migraine. There is manipulative options that can work on improvement of range of motion in the jaw and neck which can decrease pain and improve function.
  3. Physical Therapy: Physical therapy can help to improve the range of motion in your jaw and relieve muscle tension. Your physical therapist may use techniques such as massage, stretching, and exercise to alleviate your symptoms.
  4. Medications: Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve mild to moderate TMJ pain. Your healthcare provider may also recommend prescription medications such as muscle relaxants, antidepressants, or antiepileptic drugs.
  5. Oral Appliance Therapy: Oral appliance therapy involves using a specially designed mouthguard, bite guard or splint to reduce jaw clenching and grinding. This can alleviate pressure on your jaw joint and prevent headaches and migraines.
  6. Neuromuscular Dentistry: Neuromuscular dentistry focuses on treating TMJ disorders by aligning the jaw and teeth to relieve muscle tension and joint stress. A neuromuscular dentist can create custom oral appliances or perform other procedures to realign the jaw.
  7. Botox Injections: Botox injections can be used to treat migraines by blocking the release of chemicals that cause pain. They can also be used to relax the muscles in your jaw and reduce TMJ pain.

The most effective treatment plan for TMJ disorders and chronic migraines will depend on the severity of your symptoms and their underlying causes. Severe cases may need to have further evaluation by specialized providers. It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for you.

A good way to start to prep for an appointment with your physician is by starting a headache/migraine diary. This can be extremely useful in determining the etiology of your migraines and if TMJ disorder is a component of your pain pattern. Don’t forget to snag your free migraine diary!

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