Types of Headaches
Headaches come in many different forms, but most fall into four different categories:
Most of them can be associated with TMJ, though, as we noted, there are many potential causes, so it’s crucial to explore multiple explanations.
Tension Headaches and TMJ
Tension headaches are common, accounting for 80% or more of headaches. They range in severity from minor to moderate, though they can be severe in rare instances. They tend to be diffuse and are often described as feeling like a tight compression on either side of the head and pressure across the forehead.
Tension headaches are related to TMJ because when the jaw muscles work inefficiently or are in a constant state of stress, they can put pressure on your head (the temporal muscle, one of your muscles of mastication, is anchored just behind your eye), or they can pass their stress on to other muscles, which then put tension on your head.
Migraines and TMJ
Migraines come in many forms, most of which are pain in the face or neck, throbbing in one area, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, or distorted vision.
One of the most common trigger points for migraines is the trigeminal nerve and its branches. The trigeminal nerve runs right by the temporomandibular joint, and its branches are interlaced with the muscles of mastication. Adverse jaw stress can put pressure on the trigeminal nerve or its branches, triggering migraines. In addition, some research suggests that the overwhelming signals from TMJ-stressed jaw muscles to the trigeminal nerve trigger migraines.
Another possible explanation for the link between migraines and TMJ is central sensitization. In this theory, the brain gets “primed” for pain signals by a genuinely painful sensation–such as sore jaw muscles. As a result, it starts to interpret non-pain sensations as pain.
Whatever the cause, researchers agree that TMJ significantly increases the risk of migraines. A large study showed that people with TMJ were more than twice as likely to have migraines as controls. The risk may be even higher for teens, who might be three times more likely to develop migraines if they have TMJ.
Cluster headaches are named because they tend to occur in clusters, with several short, intense headaches occurring soon, one after another, for a short period: days or, rarely, weeks. They are often described as severe pain on one side of the head, usually around the eye, accompanied by a drooping eyelid, small pupil, tearing, runny nose, or redness on the same side. They often occur at night, often in the early morning hours.
These aren’t generally associated with TMJ, but they are often associated with sleep apnea.
Sinus headaches are caused by swelling and infection of the sinuses, hollow spaces inside the skull connected to our airways. They are pain in the face, sinuses, eyes, ears, or forehead, congestion, itching, runny nose, fever, and facial swelling. Your doctor treats the infection, which eliminates congestion and swelling. Then, your pain goes away.
However, most of what people label as “sinus headaches” are something else. Many are tension headaches caused by tense jaw and skull muscles that overlap the sinuses. Others are migraines.TMJ might trigger these migraines via some of the mechanisms considered above.
Finally, many so-called sinus headaches are toothaches in the upper teeth. The nerves of the face and brain nerves can’t always distinguish between pain from the sinuses and pain from the teeth.