Headaches and Temporomandibular Dysfunction- “Are they related?”

 Are you a chronic headache sufferer? Do you have neck pain, facial pain, a sensation of ear fullness, or pain? If you have never had your neck/ face/temporomandibular joint (TMJ) assessed by a trained TMJ Specialist Physical Therapist, you may be suffering from headaches unnecessarily. Many patients that we see at Freedom Physical Therapy for the first time with neck or jaw pain also tend to suffer from chronic headaches (HA). These patients have never been recommended to see a TMJ Physical Therapist. Are headaches and TMJ dysfunction related?


Often, we find that these patients have been medically managed by their physicians with headache maintenance or rescue medications for many years. 

All of our patients at Freedom are screened for Temporomandibular Dysfunction (TMD). TMD may include problems with facial muscles, jaw joint problems, and jaw disc problems. Discs are small spacers of the jaw joint that help protect the bony joint surfaces. Sometimes they can displace, exposing the joint to additional stress, which can result in facial pain. Many of the overworked muscles of mastication (chewing) can be pain generators for facial pain and headaches. When patients are referred to Freedom for headaches, our skilled PTs will make sure that your headaches are not being generated by muscles and joints of the neck and muscles, joints, and discs of the TMJ.

Patient Referral

In a recent patient referral to Freedom Physical Therapy by a local dentist, the dentist’s diagnosis was Temporal Mandibular Dysfunction (TMD). The patient’s symptoms included ear fullness and pain. The dentist was correct in his assessment and made an early referral to PT to help the patient with her face and ear pain. This was an excellent and early referral because of his knowledge and understanding of TMD. Many patients, unfortunately, get lost in the medical system. They see dentists, neurologists, and ENT doctors before they get referred to a TMJ-trained therapist that is an expert in treating these problems. Research shows to get a proper TMD diagnosis, it can take four years of doctors’ visits and suffering. (This is why all of our patients at Freedom are screened for TMD issues no matter what their problem).   

When this patient was assessed, her muscles of mastication, temporal mandibular joint, and the disc of the joint, were all contributors to her ear fullness and pain. In addition, she had neck joint tightness because of stiff muscles in the neck. Treatment included various interventional techniques to normalize the problems in the neck muscles, jaw joint muscles and jaw joints, and discs of the TMJ. In addition to improved ear pain, the patient stated that after the first visit, her daily headaches of 20 years had been abolished for a full week. Treatment ended after the abolishment of the ear fullness and pain and the additional benefit of 20 years of chronic headaches was reduced to an optimal level of frequency and intensity for the patient.

Think of Freedom PT

So, the next time you run into someone with chronic headaches, offer Freedom PT as a solution. A proper screening by a highly-skilled TMJ Trained-Physical Therapist can cut down on time to diagnosis and the amount of time they suffer from pain and dysfunction.


Jeffrey Verhagen is the Clinical Operations Administrator for Freedom Physical Therapy Services. He is a manual therapist who graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy.