The Link Between TMJ and Migraines
Last updated: November 2021
I recently wrote about how my migraines and attending vertigo and general dizziness I get seem to be strongly correlated to problems with my cervical spine/neck. But that's not all. I also have something called TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder.
What is TMJ disorder?
As its name suggests, TMJ disorder is characterized by dysfunction and pain in the joints of the jaws. As such, things like chewing, biting, even kissing, or yawning can hurt. Often, these actions are accompanied by a loud clicking/cracking sound in my jaws.
My TMJ and migraine
What is notable about my TMJ issues is that they started up around the same time I started getting really bad headaches - late high school - even long before I had any neck problems or pain. For many years the pain was intermittent. It came and went and was often instigated by some specific trigger, like chewing on something particularly hard (stale bagels or hard/thick pizza crusts were the typical culprits). But what was notable is the pain would shoot up my jaw, straight into my skull. It was a horrible, often disorienting pain.
It changed through the years
Around my early to mid-thirties, the TMJ issues became a much more common occurrence, and it was much more easily triggered - even chewing soft things could set it off - or sometimes not even chewing anything at all. My jaws seemed to ache and click without provocation. And along with my worsening TMJ problems, my headaches also increased in severity and intensity.
Linked neck pain and jaw pain
What's particularly interesting is whenever my neck pain flares, so does my jaw pain, and vice versa. The two always seem to go hand and hand. I read up a little more on this, and it seems upper cervical and jaw muscles are pretty tightly linked and known as the "trigeminal complex." Likewise, I have noticed that treating one of the issues often seems to help alleviate pain for the other. In other words, soothing my jaw pain benefits my neck, and soothing my neck benefits my jaw. And getting relief from BOTH of these seems to help soothe headaches.
What does the research have to say?
Is there any peer review research connecting TMJ to migraine? It seems there is some.
One study focusing on adolescents published in the Journal of Pain in 2019 found that more than half (55%) of those surveyed with bad headaches also experienced some TMJ. In particular, it seemed those with headaches that fit the description of classic migraine were more likely to have TMJ than those with more "tension" type headaches. Additionally, it found those with migraine and TMJ both experienced sensitive trigeminal pain when that area was palpated. Overall the study concluded: "Migraine and headache frequency were strongly associated with painful TMJ in adolescents, and causality must be determined."1
It's all connected
It is perhaps why when I massage or put heat or KT Tape on my jaw/s, I experience some relief with my headaches. One thing is clear: I will be looking into TMJ relief further to see if it not only provides relief for that pain but relief for my headaches.
Do you experience TMJ? Does it seem related to your migraines? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below.
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