TMJ and MigrainesWhen Your Migraine Has Friends, Like TMJ
It is estimated that about 35 percent of people in the U.S. suffer from both migraines and TMJ. Of those figures, as many as four times as many women have these combined migraine headaches, head and neck and TMJ symptoms. The result is excruciating jaw pain, neck and shoulder pain as well as a migraine headache.
As a migraineur, I suffer from several different types of migraines and headaches. In fact, one of the biggest culprits of my migraines are tension headaches – and I can always tell when tension causes them because I also have a sore jaw from clenching it (although I don’t realize it until after the fact.)
However, a TMJ migraine is in a category all its own!
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the jaw to the skull. This joint allows the jaw to do all of the wonderful things it does, such as enjoy bite into an apple, chew the bite of chocolate cake, and talk with your loved ones.
When this joint is working as it should, there are no issues.
However, problems can arise when the joint is out of place or if the muscles that move the jaw get fatigued. When this happens, all sorts of issues can occur – shoulder pain, earaches, toothaches, and you guessed it, migraines.
The pain can radiate to the neck, shoulder and the overall jawbone and cheek area as well as affect the ears. The reason TMJ pain happens is believed to be caused by jaw clenching and teeth grinding, often done while we sleep.
So you may be doing this and not even realize it. The first clue might be the pain you experience, and the next might be your dentist noticing you have extra wear and tear on your teeth caused by grinding them.
TMJ Hurts Your Head Whether or Not You Get Migraines
There are many different types of migraines and headaches. Statistics say that the most common type of a headache is the TMJ headache, which is not a migraine in itself.
It has been estimated that this particular headache accounts for more than 90 percent of headache pain in adults. This kind of headache may vary from mild to very intense and can often be misdiagnosed as a migraine.
But migraines are different. Migraine headaches are caused by vascular swelling within the head and are typically felt like a unilateral throbbing pain of moderate to severe which may last a few hours or typically up to 72 hours.
They are usually accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound and can cause nausea. Some people with migraines experience a visual aura, which can appear as flickering objects at the periphery of their vision.
How Are They Connected?
What has been found is an indirect connection of people who clench or grind their teeth are more likely to be the same individuals who get migraines.
Researchers have found that migraines occur when the trigeminal nerve, which sends energy signals to the blood vessels and lining of the brain, becomes irritated. This causes a release of chemicals that result in the pain and throbbing of a true migraine headache.
The trigeminal nerve also works the same magic on the TMJ, jaw muscles, teeth, and sinuses and then joins with the nerves in the upper neck. Because of this, neck and jaw issues are often a huge trigger for migraine headaches.
As you may realize, this can compound the level and extent of pain felt by the sufferer, who can be experiencing both types of pain at the same time. Now researchers are looking at whether reducing the excessive stimulation of the trigeminal nerve can significantly reduce or eliminate migraines.
Next Page: Symptoms of TMJ and How It's Treated