Chronic Migraine, Treatment

My Jaw’s Contribution to Migraine & Chronic Daily Headache Triggers

jaw triggers headaches migrainesEating itself often seems the trigger of migraine attacks, not the particular foods I eat (although certain foods are clearly problematic). I’ve explored blood sugar and thyroid angles with no success. Though I’ve had jaw pain forever, I never put the pieces together that jaw tension may be the problem. Fortunately my physical therapist figured it out.

As an outrageously stubborn Type A migraineur, my jaw is locked almost constantly. It has been sore to the touch for as long as I can remember. I’ve worn a mouth guard at night for more than 10 years and even had TMJ surgery* in 1997.

Physical therapy has yielded some key information: The PT’s work on my jaw provides far more immediate relief than when he focuses on my neck. My fascia is healthy, so muscles are the main variable. The tightest, most-difficult-to-relax spot on my neck is where the jaw muscles connect. Ideally, relaxing my jaw will also relieve some neck pain.

Jaw relaxation was a success at my first biofeedback session. Doing it on my own since then hasn’t been so productive. I relax as much as I can, but wish I had the visual feedback so I could know I’m training my muscles correctly.

Treatment plan:

  • Learn to relax my jaw and monitor the problematic spot on my neck in individual biofeedback sessions
  • Avoid crunchy or chewy foods (for a short time)
  • Cut all food into kid-sized pieces
  • Learn to chew up and down rather than in a circular motion
  • Continue to see my massage and physical therapists for jaw work
  • Use self-massage and acupressure to further treat muscles

A guide to jaw and face self-massage is one of my tools. The instructions are clear and graphics show where to focus each technique. The first page of Healing Self-Massage also teaches face and jaw massage. (Full-body self-massage is covered on the next page. I haven’t tried it, but it looks good for overall relaxation.)

This may be a major piece of the puzzle. I’m so confident I’m not even fretting it won’t help. There’s a lot of work before I find relief, but having a concrete and relatively easy-to-implement treatment plan will help. Maybe I’m setting myself up for a fall. At least it is a fall I feel good about.

*My jaw was better for two months before returning to its usual state. I’ve since learned that particular surgery borders on malpractice.

8 thoughts on “My Jaw’s Contribution to Migraine & Chronic Daily Headache Triggers”

  1. Hi – Don’t want to be offensive – You obviously are very well informed and aware of possibilities to explore with your condition. I’m sure you’re sick of hearing suggestions BUT have you looked into “Neoromuscular Dentistry”? They specialize in TMJ disorders among other things. I first saw your blog several months ago and your comments about your yeeth hurting and often getting a headache after you eat really stuck with me. Working with my neuromuscular dentist has solved about 80% of my problem and she’s encouraged me to pursue the remaining issues. On a majority of days my pain level is around 1 – 1.5 – background noise really! I’m happy to give you more info if you’re interested.

  2. I’m sitting here crying, it’s so frustrating to have my jaw locked for days on end. I just want to force it open. I wish something would help.

  3. In the early 80s, my physical therapist at the Emory Dental School TMJ clinic taught me to keep my tongue at the roof of my mouth (while keeping the teeth slightly apart, but the mouth closed) in order to relax the jaw. It took a while to get the practice to become second nature, but 25 years later it is now the default position, and truly helps (me, at least) to keep that tricky joint structure relaxed.

  4. TMJ is miserable. I’m in a twin block appliance that stops me grinding a bit. Maybe an orthodontist can help. I was advised not to do the surgery as it only lasts a few months. I wish you’d had the same info. Its hard with the grinding. I have no suggestions. Wearing the mouthgurad or the splint may still be benefitual as it will stop you breaking your teeth. Broken teeth have to come out and then everything can get much worse.

  5. Hi, Kerrie,
    You mentioned that you were using a guide to jaw and face self-massage. I’ve been using a book called “The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook” by Clair Davies. I have the 1st edition but I know there is a second edition out. There’s also a website at

    Although unfortunately I’ve only had limited success using the techniques in the book, (at least this time around–I think I may have beat back an earlier round of CDH by using the book) I really think it’s worth looking at, for its specific focus on trigger points.

    In any case, I’m glad to hear that you feel like things are coming together for you and will keep my fingers crossed–keep us posted.


  6. Kerrie – This sounds really productive! I’m crossing my fingers for you. I don’t know if tmj is a major factor for me, but recently tried chewing a really tough bagel, and actually felt the movement of tension from my jaw, up into my temples, spreading and morphing into migraine pain within minutes! Weird to be that keyed in to my body – doesn’t always happen. I will put the tmj angle on my list of things to investigate (it’s a long list!) Thanks for the post.

  7. Dear Kerrie, I’ve had bruxism issues forever. The worst is at night when I don’t have much control over it. I’ve tried mouthgaurds but I clench more with them. I tried the NTI but managed to clench my back molars even with that device. I too can have a migraine triggered by eating. Eating up and down and not in circles; that’s a new tip. Thanks very much. Is magnesium supposed to help with tmj issues? Somehow I recall that. From what little I’ve read on TMJ it appears to be a somewhat challenging problem to treat but you are definately up for it. I admire your perservearance. Thanks for sharing and blogging. Jeselle.

  8. Wow. That is so interesting!! I really hope that this brings you relief!!!

    I also believe I know the ‘source’ of my headaches. I’ve been on the trail, so to speak, of the cause since about 2003. I have definitely improved in that time — my days used to end at 5 pm and now I can work until 10 pm after my son goes to bed –but I have not reached pain free Nirvana as yet.

    What I wish I would have done is kept a better pain diary over that time. I feel like if I could go back and see how many 10 pain days I had versus now I’d be super excited about my progress. Instead, it takes outsiders (close family members or friends) to remind me how much better my life is. I’m still hoping for pain free Nirvana, I’m afraid.

    Hope is just one of those things you can’t help but have. Once you lose hope, you might as well curl up in a ball and give up, you know? I’m very excited for you and hope you see marked improvement soon!

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