Nearly everyone has had a headache at some point. Each year, 95 percent of women and nearly 90 percent of men will have a headache, reports Harvard Medical School. There are many different types of headaches, and surprisingly, the pain can sometimes originate in the jaw muscles. How are jaw muscles connected to a headache, and what can you do about it?
The Temporalis Muscle
The temporalis muscle, also called the temporal muscle, is one of the four main muscles involved with chewing, explains the Journal of Oral Research. The other chewing muscles are the masseter, medial pterygoid and lateral pterygoid. (Teach Me Anatomy lays out a diagram of these muscles and their placement around your jaws.)
The temporal muscle connects the side of the skull to the lower jawbone, and it helps you close your jaw, explains The Anatomical Basis of Dentistry. It also helps you shift your lower jawbone to the left and right.
Temporal Muscle Pain and Headaches
According to the Journal of Oral Research, pain in the temporal muscle can originate in that muscle’s tendon. The tendon can become inflamed due to tooth clenching, prolonged mouth opening or muscle strain. It can also be affected by bad habits like nail biting or lip chewing.
Disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that connects your skull and lower jaw can also result in pain in the chewing muscles, explains the Mayo Clinic. People with TMJ disorders may clench their teeth. A study published in BioMed Research International reports that people who clench their teeth tend to have fatigue in their chewing muscles. The study discovered that people with TMJ disorders experienced jaw muscle fatigue, as well.
When the temporal muscle gets overworked or injured, the pain isn’t always limited to the jaw. Pain in these muscles can radiate to nearby parts of the body, such as the ears or shoulders. It can also radiate from the jaw to the skull, causing headaches, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In severe cases, jaw pain may even cause a migraine.
Relieving Temporal Muscle Pain
Treatments for temporal muscle pain and the resulting headaches vary depending on the cause of the pain. Your dentist can recommend an appropriate treatment for your situation after examining your mouth and jaw.
If tendon inflammation is the culprit, many treatment options are available, explains the Journal of Oral Research. Conservative treatments may include resting the jaw or using cold or hot compresses. When these treatments aren’t sufficient, medications like local anesthetics or corticosteroids may be recommended. In rare cases, surgery may relieve jaw joint problems.
Oral splints or mouth guards may help manage pain for people with TMJ disorders. Physical therapy, which may involve exercises to stretch and strengthen the temporal muscle and other jaw muscles, can also be useful. Dentists may recommend various medications like muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs.
There are many causes of headaches, and sometimes, the temporal muscle and other chewing muscles can be to blame. If you’re concerned that your temporalis muscle is giving you headaches, talk to your dentist.