Does TMJ dysfunction cause headaches and what can physical therapy do to help?

TMJ Headache

There it is again — that debilitating pain that starts in your jaw and radiates up to your head. It’s another TMJ headache, and it’s making it difficult for you to carry out everyday tasks. Although it may seem like you’re alone in this struggle, you are not. Approximately 12% of the U.S. population will experience TMJ dysfunction at some point in their lives. 

What is TMJ dysfunction?

The temporomandibular joint, commonly referred to as the TMJ, is the hinge that connects your jawbone to your skull. When the joint or the surrounding muscles are damaged or strained, it can cause TMJ syndrome or dysfunction. This painful syndrome creates a tightening along the jawline, ears, face and head. For many, this may manifest in a headache. 

A jaw joint dysfunction headache may be crippling for those who experience it, as it can cause debilitating pain. Typically, pain associated with such a headache is localized to the side of the face where the TMJ disorder is worse. For others, though, the headache pain is felt equally on both sides. 

Unlike other types of headaches, if you have a TMJ headache, you may experience: 

  • Pain in the ear, face, jaw or neck.
  • Popping, clicking, or grating sounds in the jaw when opened or closed.
  • Tightness in the jaw, ear, face or neck.

Treatments for TMJ headache

For many people, a jaw joint-related headache is brought on by stress and can be treated with over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for a short period of time. If treatment with an NSAID does not provide relief, you can try alternating heat and ice along your jawline. Other treatments for this form of headache include physical therapy methods like:

  • TMJ exercises to loosen and strengthen jaw muscles.
  • Joint mobilization to help improve TMJ range of motion.
  • Soft tissue mobilization to relax muscles.
  • Mobilization to the upper neck to improve mobility and position of the TMJ.

Can physical therapy help a TMJ headache?

If you notice that your headaches are becoming more frequent and painful, it may be time to consider physical therapy. Advent Physical Therapy specialists can help ease your headache pain. Physical therapy exercises can help dramatically decrease the symptoms associated with TMJ headache by gently stretching and strengthening your muscles. 

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.