Headaches and How to Fix Them – Part 3


Headaches and How to Fix Them – Part 3

TMJ and Your Headaches

Dr. Tom Cotter, DC
Active HealthKC

For the third iteration of this series, we will focus on TMJ related headaches. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint or in simpler terms…  your jaw.

Similar to people not realizing they are breathing improperly, many people often don’t realize they are clenching their jaw. People clench their jaw for many reasons. This could be stress, poor posture, dehydration, etc. But by clenching their jaw or chewing gum all day they are putting their chewing muscles under constant tension. It would be similar to doing bicep curls nonstop or holding a weight straight out in front of you for hours on end. Both of those examples would start hurting pretty badly fairly quickly.

As follows, the muscles involved in closing your jaw and chewing are the masseter and the temporalis. The masseter is the muscle you can feel under your cheek when you chew. When strained the masseter will give you pain that can feel like a tooth ache, an ear ache, or a sinus headache. See figure 1.

TMJ and Headaches

Fig. 1  Simmons and Travell

Next is the Temporalis. The temporalis is a muscle you can feel on your temples when you clench your jaw. When strained the temporalis will give you pain in your upper teeth and/or a headache along the side of your head. See figure 2.

TMJ headaches

Fig. 2 namtpt.wildapricot.org

Now, there are two simple fixes for these types of headaches. The first is finding a “resting” position for your jaw. What we are trying to do is prevent the jaw from clenching so we put it in a position that it can’t clench. The resting position is as follows: lips together, teeth apart/not touching, and the front of your tongue resting where your upper teeth meet your gums in the front of your mouth. See figure 3.


Fig 3.

As mentioned in the breathing article, it is a good idea to give yourself a reminder. Put a sticker on your computer or a rubber band on your wrist. Every time you see those, ask yourself if you are clenching or in the resting position.

The second part of that is an active exercise. This exercise will help relax the masseter and the temporalis by activating opposing muscles. To do this exercise, start from that resting position. Now keep your tongue pressed against the top or your front upper teeth as you open your mouth as far as you can. As you do this, you should feel the floor of your mouth (below your tongue) engage. You will hold this for a second or two and then repeat for ten reps. Do this 4-6 times per day.

If this doesn’t fully resolve your issue, you are having a hard time figuring it out, or you know someone that might benefit from our services, be sure to schedule from our website www.activehealthKC.com or call 913-341-1200.