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Headache 101. There’s a cause and effect to everything.

Diagram of the temporalis muscle which is the source of many headaches and migraines. The Atlanta Center for TMJ can help cure your pain.
90% of pain comes from the muscles.

The temporalis muscle is the major positioning muscle that moves your lower jaw forward and backward thousands of times per day. If this muscle is constantly trying to hold the mandible in a position that isn’t correct, the muscle becomes fatigued and sore. Look at the position and size of the temporalis. Can you see how this large muscle can affect your headaches?

Please understand this: Your bite, the way your teeth fit together, dictates where the tmj/jaw joint has to go. One controls the other. Your bite controls your jaw joint position. Then the muscles have to hold it in that position.

Now, if your bite positions your lower jaw even half a millimeter further backward or upward or torqued or rotated… the muscles have to compensate and hold the jaw in the improper position dictated by where the teeth fit together. All day. Every day.

Imagine if I asked you to raise your arm and hold your arm straight out sideways. Now imagine if I asked you to hold this position for three hours. How about three days? Do you think your shoulder muscle (deltoid muscle) would be sore and painful? It will. Why?

Fatigued muscles cause pain.

It will be painful because the deltoid muscle that positions your shoulder will become fatigued from holding it in a position where the muscle cannot return to a state of rest. It’s working overtime. Circulation will be impaired. There will be a build-up of lactic acid in the muscle that will cause pain. Lymphatic drainage will be compromised. Fatigue, soreness and pain will set in.

This is the same process that results when your temporalis muscle has to hold the lower jaw in the wrong position. I’ve deliberately oversimplified this process for you to understand it and maybe have a little moment and say, “Ok, now I get it.”

The secret to our success isn’t a secret.

Yes, there are other muscles involved in headaches besides the temporalis, but the principle is the same. This is why we’re able to have such a high degree of success treating headaches. Even if the original source of the headache is not muscle pain, if we can get the muscles of the head and scalp which participate and contribute to the pain more relaxed, the headaches can be reduced or resolved.

I invite you to continue reading below, even though it’s detailed, to learn more about headaches that could ultimately help you make an informed decision about the treatment method you choose. Ten minutes spent reading now, is a lot less time than dealing with your pain for hours at a clip every week. Whether you select us to help you or not, please investigate, learn, become informed and seek help.

Headache and Migraine Treatment

Migraine is a painful, debilitating type of headache that creates lost workplace productivity and reduced quality of life. A severe episode can be accompanied by nausea, visual disturbances, sensitivity to light and sound, sensory changes and mental confusion. It can last for several hours to several days.

28 million Americans suffer with migraines every year and women are three times more likely to experience them as men. One in five women experience migraine headaches versus one in twenty men. More than half remain un-diagnosed either due to mis-diagnosis or failure to seek help. Living with a chronic condition can be emotionally difficult and as a result many sufferers experience depression or anxiety as a result of their condition.

They are under-diagnosed

The American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study (AMPP) commissioned by the National Headache Foundation found that less than half of people suffering from migraines received a correct diagnosis; and among women the percentage is even lower.

Many just try to dismiss their symptoms as “just a headache” and fail to seek help. Others may be reluctant to seek help because migraines may co-exist with depression and anxiety and be afraid they will be labeled as psychologically unstable or not taken seriously.

There are no specific medical tests to diagnose migraines. Physicians make a diagnosis of migraine merely from the symptoms reported by the patient.

They are under-treated

Migraines seem to be undertreated with more than half of sufferers relying exclusively on over-the-counter pain relievers for relief. Many do not use Inderal, Imitrex, Topamax, Depakote, Zomig, Relpax or Maxalt to treat their migraines because of either a bad experience with the medication, undesirable side-effects from the drugs or just attempting to self treat the condition.

Click here for more information on headache treatment solutions by the Atlanta Center for TMJ.

Types of migraines

There are two main types of migraines; with or without aura. An aura is a group of symptoms that accompany the headache including visual, sensory and cognitive changes.

  1. Without aura – About 80 percent of migraine sufferers have a migraine without aura. The headache may last from several hours to several days, primarily felt on one side of the head with a pulsating or throbbing quality. The pain is moderate to severe in intensity and may be aggravated by routine physical activity such as walking or climbing the stairs. During the headache there may be nausea, vomiting or increased sensitivity to light or sound.
  2. With aura – About 20 percent of migraine sufferers have a migraine with visual symptoms such as flickering lights, spots or lines or even temporary decrease in vision, or difficulty speaking. Again the headache may last from several hours to several days, primarily felt on one side of the head with a pulsating or throbbing quality. The pain is moderate to severe in intensity and may be aggravated by routine physical activity such as walking or climbing the stairs.

When it’s not a migraine

While a migraine may be the best known type of headache, all head pain and facial pain from headaches are not migraines.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches create intense often excruciating pain one side of the head and face and may be accompanied by symptoms such as flushing , congestion or even a swollen eye. The pain is often described as stabbing or knifelike and it can radiate toward the eye or jaw. These headaches often come in clusters or packs in frequent periods over a few weeks to few months.

The headaches can last from fifteen minutes to a few hours. Unlike most headache disorders, cluster headaches are more common in men. These headaches involve the trigeminal nerve (fifth cranial nerve). Because the pain of a cluster headache is usually on one side of the head it can be misdiagnosed as a migraine. One distinguishing characteristic of a cluster headache is that it can cause a general sense of restlessness and agitation, whereas migraine sufferers feel the need to withdraw and rest in a quiet, darkened room.

The International Headache Society defines cluster headaches as five or more episodes of head pain that meet the following criteria:

Severe one-sided pain above the eye or temple area, accompanied by swelling, redness or tearing of the eye on the same side, congestion or runny nose on the same side as the facial pain, swelling or drooping of the eyelid on the same side, sweating of the face and forehead on the same side, and a sense of agitation or restlessness.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common form of headache. Like migraines, they are more common in women than men. The pain from a tension headache can feel like a tight band encircling the top of the head or a vise squeezing the head. The pain can range from mild to severe and it differs from the migraine and cluster headache in that it is usually felt on both sides of the head and there is no nausea involved.

 

In some cases the entire head can feel tender or sore to the touch and pain may be felt in the back of the neck

Contact us today to start controlling your TMJ pain and to receive TMJ treatment.

Things you can do to help with your diagnosis

Pay more attention to the details of your headaches and their occurrences. Note the following:

Look for any patterns of occurrence. Do they occur at a certain time of day, when you encounter certain sensory stimuli like flashing lights, loud sounds, certain smells, or after you’ve consumed certain foods or liquids?

Has there been any change in lifestyle factors such as an increase in stress, change of routines, disruption of sleep schedules, secondhand smoke? Are you taking any new dietary or herbal supplements? All of these can be clues to a proper diagnosis.

Things you can do at home

Many headache sufferers find limited relief with bed rest in a quiet, darkened room. Place cold compresses on your head and take OTC analgesics you can find in the drugstore. Avoid any triggers if your research identifies any, such as chocolate, MSG in soups, sodium nitrites in cured meats like hotdogs and bacon, alcohol or perfumes.

The medical solution

Most family practice physicians, internists and neurologists tend to approach headache and migraine therapy with prescription drugs. Some drugs are designed to prevent symptoms from worsening from the initial onset. Others attempt to lessen symptoms once the headache is full blown.

Unfortunately, in all cases the medications are designed to provide relief from symptoms from the headache rather than treat the root cause of the headache. Here is a list of medications commonly prescribed for headaches or migraines:

  1. Imitrex – A triptan drug delivered by nasal spray or subcutaneous injection. It’s not recommended for people with certain heart problems. Side effects include flushing of skin, tightness in chest or throat, fatigue, dizziness and muscle weakness. People with a history of heart attack, stroke, angina or atherosclerosis should not take triptans as they can constrict blood vessels.
  2. Zomig – A triptan drug delivered by nasal spray and oral form. Side effects include dizziness, dry mouth, sweating and weakness. Zomig should also be avoided by people with heart problems.
  3. Ergotamine – This drug is available in either injectable, inhaler or sublingual form. Nausea can be a problem with this medication and can be serious if used frequently.
  4. NSAID’s – Non-opioid pain relievers such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve and Toradol are all non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Because they are non-addictive they are used very frequently for treatment of headaches and migraines. However they should be used with caution because of the significant side-effects including: edema (fluid retention), nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, kidney and liver problems, stomach bleeding and more.
  5. Opioid pain relievers – Drugs such as Demerol, Darvon, Oxycontin, Actiq, Stadol and others are not designed specifically for use in migraines or headaches but rather, are for general pain relief. Most are available in oral form. Overuse can cause physical dependence and increased tolerance to the drug requiring ever-increasing doses to have effect. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, memory loss, confusion, fatigue, itching and constipation. They can depress respiration and breathing so they should be used with extreme caution with other drugs at bed time or with patients with respiratory problems.
  6. Migranal – An ergot derivative class of drugs along with Ergomar are an older class of migraine medications. Because of the high incidence of side-effects especially nausea, these drugs are only used as a last resort when other drugs are contra-indicated. Side-effects include peripheral vaso-spasm (blood vessel constriction) which can restrict arterial blood flow and tissue death.
  7. Depakote – A drug classification of valproic acid that can help prevent future attacks. Frequent blood and liver tests are required for patients using this drug for headache or migraine therapy.

The bottom line on medication

Chances are if you visit a neurologist they will perform a battery of tests to assess your motor skills and function including a mental status assessment, cranial nerve tests, motor and sensory systems, deep tendon reflexes, coordination and gait analysis. You will probably have either an MRI or CT scan.

If you visit an endocrinologist they may say you have a high or low thyroid. If you visit an allergist or ENT they may say you have sinus problems. Your cardiologist may say it’s a peripheral circulation problem. What they all have in common is this…

When you ultimately leave their office, you will probably have a new prescription in your hand to treat your headache or migraine symptoms. Some drugs are to be taken daily just to try to “prevent” symptoms. Others are for when you have pain.

If you’re happy with the results of the painkiller, gained significant relief, have minimal side-effects and are coping well with your headaches or migraines, then just work hand in hand with your physician to monitor the ongoing effectiveness of the drug and any effect on organ systems that may result from its prolonged usage.

Chances are if you’re still reading here, you’re not doing so well. If you’ve already tried prescription painkillers and are not pleased with the results, then read a little further to learn about how we can help you relieve your headache or migraine.

Our solution

Ayn Rand of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ fame said, “We need to check our premises” and verify that we have not overlooked something or assumed something that is not valid.

If we look forward, we must consider the possibility that if taking prescription painkillers for extended use, frequently leads to building tolerances to the drug, reduced effectiveness, allergic reactions and damage to organ systems and this is a very reasonable assumption…

At what point do we say the medical approach of taking drugs or injecting Botox to mask symptoms does not work well? What are we missing?

The glaring omission is that the physicians, although they may attempt to mask the symptoms of pain that the muscles of the head and neck create when they are in spasm or fatigued, with drugs or Botox… they never address the root cause of the pain, the muscles themselves.

Traditional medicine with drugs doesn’t work very well for migraines. It tries hard, but most of the time it fails. Our bias is toward treating the actual root cause, not the symptoms.

Our approach to headache therapy is to correct an improper bite that is causing the fatigued muscles and impaired circulation, if in fact we determine this is the case. If we can relax the muscles of the head and neck on an ongoing basis by resolving the causes of the muscle tension then you don’t need the drugs.

Investigate

The least you can do is investigate. The minimum expected of you is to question your doctor. Ask if they have any solutions for your migraines that don’t involve taking prescription painkillers and drugs for your entire life. Ask what can be done to prevent a reoccurrence? Ask what are the side-effects of the medications they’re prescribing. Ask what triggers you should avoid.

We can help

If your physician(s) have been unable to achieve the results you desire, please contact us and just come in for a consultation. We’ll determine if your muscles and bite relationship are a root cause for your headaches or not. It may have been a while ago, but there was a time in your life when you enjoyed each and every day pain-free.

We don’t care how far off the path you may have wandered. We want to help you recapture that feeling and get back on track. We’re incredible human beings with an amazing capacity to heal and unlimited potential for health and happiness. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you believe it. We desire to work with a few individuals who do.

Click here for more information on headache treatment solutions by the Atlanta Center for TMJ.