Temporomandibular Joint and Your Headache Connection

What are the Hallmarks of a Headache Which is Aggravated by Temporomandibular Joint Problems?

If your temporomandibular joint generates your headaches, expect pain in your temples, forehead or eyes.  Your pain may appear on one side of your head on the same side as your jaw dysfunction. However, the pain can spread to both sides. Your headache pain and throbbing can wax and wane along with your temporomandibular joint pain.

Your headache may be triggered by the same factors that irritate your temporomandibular joint. These activities include chewing, yawning, or talking for long periods. You may sleep on your stomach or side in a manner that pushes your jaw off its normal alignment. Once you wake up, your jaw feels the unpleasant effect of having been held in an off kilter position all night.

What are the Signs of a Problem Jaw that Could Lead to Headache Pain?

You cannot open your jaw without pain. Normally, you should be able to fit two knuckles or three fingers into your open mouth without pain.

You also may notice you hold your jaw clenched tightly as a reaction to stress. Your clenched jaw muscles never fully relax, and your headache condition suffers because of that.

Your jaw “clicks” when you open or close it. Clients in our clinic find this jaw clicking very frustrating.

What Can I Do to Reduce Strain on My Temporomandibular Joint?

Firstly, avoid harder, chewy foods such as beef jerky or raw carrots. Secondly, do not sleep on your stomach if possible. Also, place your tongue in an “N” position at the roof of your mouth. This exercise may help release your clenching reaction.

Further, you can get a night splint that can prevent you from clamping down too hard during the night. Finally, massage out the muscles that compress the temporomandibular joint surfaces together.

What Muscles Should I Focus My Attention on?

When someone comes to the clinic who has both headaches and jaw pain, I assess the muscles that are involved with both headache and temporomandibular dysfunction. The main contender I find that affects both conditions is the temporalis muscle. Treat the temporalis muscle and you likely will see a decrease in your headache pain.

However, there are  other muscles that affect your temporomandibular joint that also can create headaches. We will look at several of these muscles in future blogs. Treat all of these muscles affecting your temporomandibular joint and you probably will help your headache. Whatever is good for your temporomandibular joint problem is likewise good for your headaches as well.

The temporalis muscle is a flat, thin fan-shaped muscle that covers a significant portion on the side of your head. The temporalis even reaches as far back behind the ear.

Think of the temporalis muscle as a funnel. The top of the funnel is the side of your head, and the end of the funnel attaches to your jaw. You can massage the temporalis tendon end point only reaching it on the inside of your mouth.

A Tight Temporalis Muscle Can Limit Your Mouth Opening

Your temporalis muscle assists in chewing your food. Place your hand on your temple, chew and you will feel it bulge out. The temporalis pulls the jaw to one side or the other. The right temporalis pulls the jaw right and the left one pulls to the left.

If your temporalis is not working properly, it won’t fully release and return to its relaxed baseline.  Your tight temporalis will not permit your jaw to open fully. A tight temporalis on one side can pull your jaw to the right  off of its normal track and throw your bite off.

Time and time again, I find massage to the temporalis produces immediate wider jaw opening. Massage may also help the bite to straighten out if the jaw has been pulled to one side.

Try pulling the jaw to one side when you have a frontal headache and hold it for 30 seconds. Your headache may reduce as you are stretching a tight temporalis muscle. For instance, to stretch a tight right temporalis, you would pull your jaw to the left.

A Tight Temporalis Muscle Can Produce Jaw Clicking

You may be have a frustrating click in your jaw. Many of the clients in our clinic are amazed to find that pressure to certain parts of the temporalis shut down the clicking phenomenon immediately. However, realize that not all points in the temporalis will have this clicking shutdown effect. It simply depends which fibers on the funnel are tight and pulling the jaw ever-so-slightly off course.

For instance, you may find that pressure on your temporalis muscle just above your ear shuts down jaw clicking. Alternatively, your best point may be more to the front of the muscle just above the jaw.

Generally, the target point will be in an area of the temporalis muscle that is tight and cordlike and more sensitive than the areas surrounding it. Of course, the muscle producing your bothersome clicking may not be the temporalis at all. Consequently, in a future blog we will look at other headache-producing muscles that also act on your temporomandibular joint.

Stress Can Lead to Tight Temporalis Muscles

Your temporalis muscle is one of those that can react to stress. Consequently, in response to stressful situations you find yourself constantly clenching your teeth together.

Set up sticky pads or set a watch alarm to remind you to let your jaw relax. Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth in the “N” position. That technique works wonders for many people trying to de-stress.

Can My Temporalis Cause Headache Pain Without Temporomandibular Dysfunction?

Absolutely! The temporalis is one of the main headache producers. Many people have no problem with their jaw function, and yet have tremendous tenderness and tightness in the temporalis. Indeed, several of the most effective acupressure points are housed within the temporalis muscle.

How Can I Best Massage the Temporalis?

First, place your elbow on your kitchen table or any object high enough to keep your arm supported. Then, lean your head slightly into your thumb or fingers to specifically target the offending muscle fibers. Your pressure is more specific this way versus a massage with an unsupported hand floating in the air.

If your temporalis is sensitive, you may find that lightly brushing over the muscle rapidly with the palm of your hand is beneficial.

Usually 30-60 seconds massage is enough, repeated several times per day. If successful, you will feel a diminished headache and your jaw moves more freely.


If you have any sharp pain or visual disturbance during a temporalis massage, stop immediately. I have never seen this condition in the clinic. However, a rare condition called temporal arteritis exists where blood vessels on the side of the head become inflamed. Anyone who thinks they might have such a condition should be immediately tended to by a physician. Treatment would then decrease the swelling in the blood vessels on the side of the head.

Barring an unusual condition such as this, releasing a tight temporalis muscle can produce amazing relief for both head and jaw!


-You understand that if not done properly, some techniques and exercises described in this blog could harm you. Any activities you perform are at your own risk, and you expressly agree to waive any claims against the author for any harm that may arise from your own actions. By reading this blog and conducting these exercises, you accept this risk. This blog provides content related to physical and/or mental health issues. As such, your use of techniques described acts as your acceptance of this disclaimer.

-Consult Chapter 2 in my book, “Calming the Headache Storm” to make sure the headache is not the sign of a more serious problem. The techniques, advice and strategies contained in this blog may not be suitable for every individual and should be abandoned if your headache increases. Seek the advice of your physician.


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