Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders: The Migraine Connection 

One in four Americans seeks care for acute and chronic pain in the face and neck at some point in life.  Recurring headaches or muscle aches in the neck, shoulders or face plague these people every day and often go unresolved for years. 

In addition, sufferers experience ear symptoms including pain, ringing, buzzing or loss of hearing.  They may also have clicking or locking of the jaw which can make chewing, speaking or moving the jaw painful or difficult.

After thorough analysis, many of these patients' symptoms could be traced back to Temporomandibular (jaw) Joint and obstructive sleep disorders which triggered jaw clenching, resulting in the classic "migraine".

TMJ Dysfunction:  What is it?

TMJ itself stands for Temporomandibular Joints, a complex system of bone, muscle, nerves and soft tissue located just in front of your ears. They are the most frequently used joints in the body… and are prone to misalignment, which can lead to chronic recurrent headaches as well as ear, facial and neck pain.  Until recently, these symptoms, appearing unrelated, were frequently undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as migraine, tension headache, neuritis, neuralgia, or stress.

Migraine Symptoms

Migraines involve recurrent episodes of moderate to severe throbbing or pulsing pain; often striking only one side of the head.  Untreated, such attacks can last from 4 to 72 hours. Other common symptoms are extreme sensitivity to light, noise and odors, and nausea and vomiting.

Migraines occur most frequently in the morning, especially upon waking.  Some people have migraines at predictable times, such as before menstruation or on weekends following a stressful week of work. Many people feel exhausted or weak following a migraine but are usually symptom-free between attacks.

Tension Headaches

Tension-type headache is the most common type of headache.  Its name indicates the role of stress or emotional conflict in triggering pain and contracting the muscles in the neck, face, scalp, and jaw. Tension-type headaches may also be caused by jaw clenching, intense work, missed meals, depression, anxiety or too little sleep. Tension-type headaches affect women slightly more often than men.

Headaches and Sleep Disorders

Headaches are often a secondary symptom of sleep apnea. For example, tension-type headache is regularly seen in persons with insomnia or sleep-wake cycle disorders. Reduced oxygen levels in people with sleep apnea may trigger early morning headaches.

The first step in caring for a tension-type headache involves treating any specific disorder or disease that may be causing it. For example, arthritis of the neck is treated by a physician with anti-inflammatory medication and temporomandibular joint dysfunction may be helped by oral appliances.

·         A sleep study may be needed to detect sleep apnea and should be considered when there is a history of snoring, daytime sleepiness or obesity. Dr. Durden refers patients with possible sleep disorders to a sleep specialist for diagnosis and treatment.

If you think you have a TMJ Disorder

Dr. Durden finds that it is sometimes helpful for patients keep a daily journal to document the details of their TMJ symptoms, including the time(s) pain occurred and what they were doing, along with the level of pain and specific location.  Our Head, Neck and Facial Pain Questionnaire can also provide us with valuable details in addressing TMJ symptoms. 

Chronic pain is one of the most prevalent causes of depression and stress, with the resulting effect of diminishing quality of life.  If you or a loved one is suffering with these types of TMJ symptoms, please Contact Us and let us help you uncover the cause and get back on the road to recovery and a pain-free life.

References: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, American Academy of Craniofacial Pain  

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