Headache and jaw pain can be both physically and emotionally debilitating. These conditions are not only painful, but can affect concentration, senses and even your ability to communicate normally. Osteopathy can gently alleviate and prevent re-occurrence of many types of headaches and jaw pain.
Jaw pain is sometimes called temporomandibular disorder (TMD), because of the joints affected. The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) can be found just in front of your ears, where the jaw hinges on your skull. Pain is usually experienced in this area and can also radiate around the cheeks and jaw and into the ears. Your jaw may click when you open or close your mouth and can feel ‘stuck’ or restricted. People with jaw pain may also experience headaches and tinnitus.
What Causes Jaw Pain?
Jaw pain can be caused or made worse by:
- Clenching or grinding your teeth
- ‘Wear and tear’ of the TMJ joint due to osteoarthritis
- Stress-related tension
- Injury or impact to the face or jaw
- Uneven bite due to poorly-filled teeth, crowns or dentures
- Sometimes the cause is unknown
How can Osteopathy Help with Jaw Pain?
Jaw pain is usually due to restriction or hypermobility of one or both TMJ joints. An osteopath will aim to restore the best possible function to the area by treating the complex system of surrounding muscles, joints and connective tissue. Treatment may include gentle massage and mobilisation of the neck, upper back and facial muscles. We would also advise on exercises to do at home. When people’s headaches and tinnitus are linked to their jaw pain, osteopathic treatment can also help relieve these symptoms. Read more about osteopathic treatment.
In some instances, where grinding is an issue, we may also recommend talking to your dentist about getting a mouth guard fitted to wear at night.
Common headaches fall into several categories, some of which are more amenable to osteopathic treatment than others.
These are the most common type of headache. People usually feel a constant ache on both sides of their head as if a tight band is stretched around it. They usually last for 30 minutes to several hours, but can last for several days. Tension headaches can be caused or made worse by stress, poor posture, skipping meals and dehydration. ✔Osteopathy can help
These are usually one-sided headaches affecting the back of the head and neck. They can be accompanied by nausea, dizziness, blurred vision and difficulties swallowing. They are caused by restrictions or injury affecting the joints of the neck (cervical spine) which refer pain to the head. ✔Osteopathy can help
Migraines are one-sided, throbbing headaches affecting the front or side of the head. They can last from hours to days, and are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound. Some people experience an ‘aura’ or flashing lights before the migraine starts. It is thought that various triggers can affect the neurological and blood supply to the brain, leading to migraines. Triggers can be:
- Emotional – stress, anxiety, depression ✔Osteopathy can help
- Physical – lack of sleep, postural issues, neck and shoulder tension ✔Osteopathy can help
- Hormonal – eg. around the time of women’s periods ✘ Osteopathy can’t help
- Dietary – alcohol, irregular meals, caffeine, specific foods ✘ Osteopathy can’t help
- Environmental – bright lights, screens, smoke, weather changes ✘ Osteopathy can’t help
- Medication – sleeping tablets, combined contraceptive, HRT ✘ Osteopathy can’t help
How can Osteopathy Help with Headaches?
An osteopath will determine what sort of headache you are getting and whether osteopathy can help. We would usually focus treatment around the head, neck and upper spine and include massage, articulation, mobilisation and cranial techniques. Read more about osteopathic treatment.
Cluster headaches, hypertension headaches, trigeminal neuralgia and temporal arteritis are less common headache causes and are unlikely to be alleviated by osteopathy. Headaches can also be caused by more serious underlying conditions. If your headache started after a blow to the head or you have prolonged disorientation, confusion or dizziness it is important to seek medical advice.
Useful Research Links
- Manual therapy for the management of pain and limited range of motion in subjects with signs and symptoms of temporomandibular disorder: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials.
- Manual therapies for primary chronic headaches: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials
- Osteopathic manipulative therapy for patients with frequent episodic tension-type headache
- Effectiveness of Physical Therapy in Patients with Tension-type Headache: Literature Review.
- Is craniosacral therapy effective for migraine?
- Efficacy of osteopathic manipulative treatment of female patients with migraine: results of a randomized controlled trial
- Manual therapies for cervicogenic headaches: a systematic review