Although TMJ can trigger many types of headaches, including migraines, the most common type of headache related to the condition is a tension headache. Tension headaches occur when your muscles become tense, sore, and fatigued.
The muscle become fatigued because they are being asked to work too much. But what is “too much” work? That depends on your muscles. There are different types of muscle fibers, and the proportion of these muscle fibers will determine how quickly you experience fatigue, soreness, and pain.
Understanding the Different Muscle Types
There are many ways to classify muscles, but the most common classification for skeletal muscles divides them into three categories: type I, type IIa, and type IIb.
Type I muscle fibers are your slow-twitch long endurance muscle fibers. These slow-twitch muscle fibers are used for prolonged activity, and they are slow to work and slow to tire. They have the ability to utilize more oxygen, but they don’t deliver high levels of force.
Type IIa muscles are fast-twitch muscles. These can deliver higher levels of force, but they tend to tire more quickly. Type IIb are the strongest, fastest muscles. They are also the muscle fibers more likely to tire most quickly.
How Muscle Types Contribute to Jaw Pain
Our jaw muscles are mostly made up of type II muscle fibers, with some surveys saying the bite muscles are 65-75% type II fibers. These muscle fibers are designed to act quickly and provide strong force, but they tire quickly. They’re designed to be used for short bursts of activity, like chewing a meal. They aren’t designed to be clenched over time.
When your jaw is imbalanced and your muscles are being asked to work all the time because they can’t find a good resting position, they will become tired quickly, leading to jaw pain.
Some surveys suggest that for women the proportion is reversed, with over 60% of jaw muscle fibers being the slow twitch kind. These may not be as quick to tire at first, but over time they can lead to more wide-ranging symptoms (see below).
As Muscles Condition, Symptoms Spread and Change
Of course, our muscle percentages aren’t set. Just like an endurance runner will begin to develop more slow-twitch muscle fibers with conditioning, your jaw will, too. Over time, you might notice that your jaw gets sore, but maybe not as much. Instead, you start to notice more headaches and pain in the neck. That’s because you’ve conditioned your jaw muscles, but not the muscles that partner with them. Now your jaw muscles don’t fatigue as fast, but they’re passing the fatigue on to other muscles, instead.
You might also notice more toothaches, tooth wear, and broken teeth. Symptoms like pinched nerves, tingling, and numbness will become more prominent. You are more likely to notice problems in the function of your jaw joint, such as displacement of the cushioning disc in your jaw. Vertigo, dizziness, ringing in the ears and other ear-related symptoms will become more prominent.
Stop TMJ Early to Limit Symptoms
To help your jaw system remain healthy and functional, it’s important to act quickly on TMJ symptoms. When you start developing jaw pain and notice that you’re clenching your teeth too much, it’s time to consult a TMJ dentist. Using our K7 diagnostic system, we can measure the tension in each of your jaw muscles to identify the source of your tension. We can adjust the position of your jaw until we find the point where your muscles are relaxed. Once we find the best position, we can develop a bite splint that will hold your jaw there so your muscles can relax so they won’t develop pain and soreness. This can stop the spread of symptoms and prevent your jaw muscles from damaging your teeth, jaws, and nerves.