The “Head Game” with Headaches

TMJ, TMD, we treat headaches at ThriveHeadaches can be caused by a number of reasons that should first be ruled out by your physician. Certain headaches however can be brought on by a disorder called temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD) that may also involve your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). These conditions often involve hyperactive muscles near your jaw. Tension in muscles in this region can contribute to headaches. For instance, if you have tight shortened muscles under your chin, this can create a “tug of war” with the muscles that try to raise your jaw up. This tension can cause pain along the scalp and upper forehead region. One study involving headache sufferers showed that nearly 81% of headache patients in the study presented with pain in the masseter muscle and over 47% had temporal muscle pain. (Those are muscles near your cheek and head).

Poor posture along with tightness and weakness in the neck and upper back muscles can create a dysfunctional pulley system as well around your jaw, neck and scalp. This can leave you with pain in your head which can, quite literally, be a real pain in the neck.  Take my advice, and sit up tall while reading the rest of this! A  Physical Therapist can evaluate you to detect muscle imbalances, joint dysfunctions and educate you on efficient posture.

Sometimes the Answer to Those Headaches May be Right There on the Tip of Your Tongue

Improper resting tongue position can also contribute to headaches. Some experts believe that if your tongue sits lower in the jaw like it does with mouth breathers, it can cause a “weighing down effect” on that bottom jaw. This can put strain on the TMJ joint and the upper facial muscles that try to support your chin and mouth. The recommended proper resting tongue position is placing it up on the roof of your mouth with the tip of the tongue slightly behind (NOT PRESSING UP) against your front teeth. Practice this position by saying the letter “N”.

Your Daily Grind May Contribute To Your Headaches

Poor habits like biting your nails, chewing on pens, grinding your teeth and stress can all contribute to tight muscles along the jaw, stressing the TMJ region. Facial pain can be caused by the contraction of the muscles that close your jaw. These “closing muscles” include the superficial masseter, the medial pterygoid, and the temporalis muscles. If these muscles are constantly contracting, like when you’re grinding those teeth in tense meetings at work, they can trigger pain and tension in the scalp and jaw region.

Chew On This –  Your Bite May be Contributing To Your Aching Head

Some dentists, orthodontists and oral surgeons find that your bite can be an underlying cause of headaches and jaw pain. If your teeth do not align properly it can cause affected muscles to tighten over time as you alter your bite to accommodate the misalignment. This can create problems with your Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and even create some tension in the neck and shoulders, so be sure to discuss your jaw and headache pain with your dentist.

Stand Tall In Your Battle Against Headaches

Through a course of physical therapy muscle imbalances along the neck, upper chest and upper back muscles can be addressed to help you reach optimal posture. A physical therapist can perform soft tissue techniques to alleviate myofascial restrictions (aka “knots”) in muscles in your cheek, neck and scalp. Joint mobilization and muscle energy techniques can address joints that are “stiff” and not working efficiently. Exercises to retrain your mouth movements and core and neck musculature will also be part of a program to help you through these headache hurdles. Stress relief techniques like deep breathing, and yoga , throughout the day are also recommended to help stop that grinding during stressful moments through the day.

Image above courtesy of arztsamui at

AmyMcGorry Physical TherapistAmy McGorry, PT, DPT MTC, Received her Bachelor’s of Science in physical therapy from SUNY Stony Brook in 1991 and earned her doctoral degree in physical therapy from the University of St. Augustine in 2011. In 2005 Amy, completed an advanced certification in Orthopedic Manual Joint Manipulation from the University of St. Augustine. In addition to her clinical skills, Dr. McGorry is a freelance news reporter for Channel 12 and contributes medical articles, short videos and slideshows to health and wellness websites.