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An Often-Forgotten Cause of Headaches

By Shane Oliver, MPT

What do most people do when they have a headache? Reach for a pain reliever? Lie down in a dark, quiet room? Few people will consider the pain’s source. And when a source is considered, the headache is usually attributed to stress.


There are many conditions that can cause headaches. Today, we’re going to focus on one condition typically overlooked: TMJ Disorders. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders can contribute to headaches due to the joint's connection between your jaw and skull. When this joint malfunctions, it can result in headaches, extending pain from the jaw to the head and neck.


Common signs of TMJ disorders:

  • Jaw pain

  • Difficulty chewing

  • Clicking or popping sounds in the jaw

  • Muscle stiffness These issues collectively contribute to the development of headaches. The tension and dysfunction in the jaw area can trigger tension-type headaches or migraines.


If you're experiencing symptoms such as jaw pain, difficulty chewing, or frequent headaches, consulting a healthcare professional or dentist is crucial. They can assess your symptoms and identify the underlying cause. Treatment options for TMJ disorders may include lifestyle changes, dental appliances, and physical therapy.


Physical Therapy for TMJ Disorders:

  • Exercises to strengthen and stretch the jaw muscles.

  • Manual techniques to improve jaw mobility and correct any muscular imbalances.

  • Relaxation techniques to alleviate muscle tension in the jaw and surrounding areas.


Simple measures you can do at home:

  • Apply heat or cold packs to the jaw (We can help you determine heat or ice)

  • Practice relaxation techniques

  • Avoid excessive jaw movements like chewing gum


It's crucial to address TMJ disorders promptly to prevent symptoms from worsening and becoming chronic. Early intervention and appropriate management, including physical therapy, can significantly improve jaw function, reduce pain, and alleviate associated headaches. If you suspect you have a TMJ disorder, make an appointment so we can personalize a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.


About the therapist: Shane Oliver has 15 years of experience as a therapist, focusing on manual therapy, personalized exercises, and patient education. He graduated from California State Long Beach with a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology and then went on to graduate from CSULB with a master’s degree in physical therapy. His goal is to help patients improve their quality of life and return to the activities they enjoy.

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