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Treating head, neck and TMJ pain conditions

St. John's Physiotherapy

Did you know there are six common kinds of headache? and did you know that, at Avalon Laser Health we offer effective treatment plans for most of them?  

These common headaches can relate to injury or dysfunction of the neck, tongue or TMJ (temporomandibular joint). They include tension headache; concussion and direct head trauma; sinusitis; and cluster and migraine headache. Less common reasons for headache include a whole host of serious pathologies, such as cancer, for which we cannot offer effective treatment options. 

Those we can help include:

  1. Cervicogenic headache is most frequently felt at the base of the head or top of the head, although it can refer to any area. It sometimes appears to mimic the pain of a migraine headache. It is referred to from the muscles or joints of the neck. It often follows trauma, such as whiplash injuries; but can also relate to sustained poor head and neck postures.
  1. TMJ injury and dysfunction commonly causes pain in the region of the jaw and ear, and may be associated with the sensation of ringing in the ear. There are usually joint signs, such as clicking, popping, limited and painful jaw opening and tenderness over the TMJ joint. It is sometimes misdiagnosed as a tension headache. 
  1. Tension headaches are described as dull, aching, pressure-like, squeezing and often in a band-like distribution.  The cause of these headaches is unknown, but it is believed that stress, clenching and grinding or other circumstances that sensitize brain function cause muscle tension and/or spasm. These headaches tend to be episodic, and are very variable in intensity, frequency and duration. They may become chronic, and can last weeks to months. 
  1. Concussion and traumatic brain injury. These headaches always follow trauma and a direct blow to the head. While they all should receive emergency and follow-up medical investigation and care, we can offer effective care for the subsequent management of many of these injuries. 
  1. Sinusitis is a pretty common cause of headache, which can be misdiagnosed as migraine headache. The usual cause of sinusitis is infection or inflammation within the sinus cavities. It is reported to be experienced by 10% to 30% of the population on average once per year. The pain is felt behind the cheeks and/or forehead, and is described as dull, deep, aching, and can increase with bending forward. 
  1. Cluster Headaches and Migraine headaches. The causes of these headaches are unknown, but are thought to be hormonal or circulatory.

Within our clinic, clients who present with complaints of headache most frequently have cervicogenic pain, that is pain caused by trauma or dysfunction of the neck. Poor posture is perhaps the most often cause of dysfunction, as well as the sneakiest. Sneaky, because the pain seems to come from nowhere, and it can be hard to appreciate that the most common activities, such as texting, in fact precipitated the pain. Sneaky because there may have been a sudden start to pain, interpreted as an injury, with or without trauma, which has the effect of masking the role of poor posture or muscle imbalance. The next most common cause in our clinic is related to temporomandibular (TMJ) dysfunction. In practice, TMJ and neck dysfunction are so entwined they really reflect a common source. When we assess our headache and neck pain clients, we can see the poor alignment and muscle imbalances which cause pain. We can screen for the elevated stress and anxiety indicators that so often complicate recovery. The multiple facets which contribute to headache require the insight and skills of multiple practitioners to well treat headache, TMJ and neck pain. 

An emerging treatment for concussion and head trauma is low intensity laser or photobiomodulation (PBMT). Within our clinic, we have observed the powerful contribution laser or PBMT provides to post motor vehicle accidents (MVA) clients who have sustained neck and non-severe head trauma injuries. In addition to the accelerated healing effect associated with direct stimulation of injured cells, many of our clients report improved quality of sleep and decreased pain. In our estimation, a benefit often not appreciated, is the ability of the laser to minimize scar formation, which may be one cause of chronic pain following whiplash. 

Within our clinic, we manage head and neck pain with a collaborative effort from physiotherapy, massage, and acupuncture. In addition, we collaborate with a myofunctional therapist with specialist knowledge of tongue and airway mechanics, as well as the function of muscles of the face and neck. Working together, we can help!

All told, we have a lot to offer our clients suffering from headache, of all causes. We seldom see sinusitis clients, because such individuals are not amongst our usual referral base; but the Bioflex laser offers a drug-free and effective option for many sinusitis sufferers. Similarly, migraine clients are not part of our usual referral base; but there is considerable research interest in using low intensity laser as a treatment option.  Physiotherapy for the restoration of normal head, shoulder and alignment and mechanics, massage to normalize muscle tone, acupuncture for management of anxiety, many ways to manage pain, Bioflex laser to accelerate healing and minimize scarring, and myofunctional therapy for tongue and airway involvement….we really do have much to offer! Clearly, not all clients need all treatment interventions. Your best treatment approach will be determined following a detailed assessment. Although this is most frequently a physiotherapy assessment, any of our collaborative team can facilitate the best treatment plan for your needs and goals. 

Call Vani to learn more of how we can help, and to schedule an appointment


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