Staying in the Game: Sudden headaches? Could be TMJ

The temporal mandibular joint, better known as the TMJ, is the hinge joint that allows your mouth to open and close. It is made up of the mandible or jawbone, which attaches to the temple bone of the skull.

Injuries to the TMJ can be significant. This patient is one of my fittest patients. He owns a gym and does personal training for his clients. He takes his profession very seriously and is very good at what he does.

On previous visits I have been amazed at his knowledge and advice he gives his clients. I always enjoy sharing ideas with him on how to get the most out of our athletes.

His usual complaints would be lower back or neck pain from training with clients. These complaints responded quickly and easily with standard chiropractic procedures.

Today’s visit is different. He gives me a history of severe headaches on the left side of his head. The headaches were so severe that his wife took him to the emergency room of the hospital twice over the weekend hoping to get some medication to relieve the pain.

These are not your normal tension headaches. He was having migraine headaches for the first time.

My question was, “Why is he having migraine headaches now when he had no history of them before?”

His history ruled out any other health issues that could be a cause of his headaches. There were no known contributing factors.

During our conversation I noticed his face wasn’t straight. He had what’s called a banana head. His face was shaped like a banana. His jaw was off to the left.

During my examination, his left TMJ was tender to the touch with a muscle spasm. When I had him repeatedly open his mouth, his jaw deviated to the left.

I also found a muscle spasm and restricted motion in his cervical spine. All other testing was normal.

I told him his cervical spine and TMJ were involved with his migraine headaches. I wanted to know what he did to cause an injury to his TMJ and neck.

He said he was training a mixed martial arts athlete. The man had his forearm on his jaw pushing his head to the mat. He tried to escape from the position and the force of the forearm must have moved the TMJ out of alignment.

I recommended and treated both his TMJ and cervical spine with manipulation and massage of the muscles of the TMJ. He followed up several days later and the banana head was much improved. No headaches since his last visit.

Other symptoms associated with TMJ disorder are pain and cracking noise when you bite. This may cause you to grind your teeth. The TMJ also can be caused by teeth moving and gum disease.

This is when your dentist or a dental TMJ specialist is needed. They may have to make you a mouthguard for sleeping, and treat your teeth and gums.

Exercises also can be prescribed to balance the muscles. The TMJ muscles are thought to be the strongest in the body.

TMJ disorders are common in whiplash type injuries that cause the jaw to open violently and beyond its normal range of motion.

I like to see athletes wear mouthguards. This not only protects the teeth from injury but causes the athlete to have his jaw clinched shut. In the event that a blow occurs to the jaw, the TMJ is protected from excessive motion.