Ear pain is a very common symptom of temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD). In fact, studies show that nearly 80 or 90 percent of people with TMJ might experience ear-related symptoms. Depending on the study, ear pain is either the first or second most common ear symptom related to TMJ. About 60 percent of people with TMJ experience ear pain.
There are multiple potential connections between ear pain and TMJ, but the Detroit TMJ dentists at the Michigan Head and Neck Institute emphasize the trigger point theory. We utilize this theory because it is a powerful tool for achieving relief for patients, and helping reduce or eliminate ear pain, headaches, and other TMJ-related symptoms.
The Origins of Trigger Point Theory
Throughout the 19th century, multiple investigators looked at the role of what they called “nodular tumors” or “muscle calluses” in triggering local or regional pain. In the early 20th century, British physician Dr. J.H. Kellgren used injections to demonstrate that stimulation of certain muscle points in healthy volunteers could lead to pain in neighboring and distant areas.
Dr. Kellgren’s work influenced US physician Dr. Janet Travell, who was one of the first people to utilize the term “trigger point” to refer to this effect. It was initially difficult to get the larger scientific and medical communities to accept this theory. In the end, it was the practical effectiveness of the theory that led to more widespread acceptance (although controversy remains).
Dr. Travell utilized trigger point theory to relieve then-Senator John F. Kennedy of disabling neck pain. In part because of the effectiveness of these treatments, Dr. Travell became President John F. Kennedy’s personal physician, the first woman to hold the position. With dozens of clinical papers and a groundbreaking 1983 book, Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction. The Trigger Point Manual, she defined trigger point theory.
In the 1980s, Detroit TMJ dentist Dr. Richard Klein, the founder of the Michigan Head & Neck Institute, studied directly with Dr. Travell, learning key aspects of trigger point theory and practice directly from the master.
Trigger Point Theory, Ear Pain, and TMJ
The basic theory of trigger points is that nodules in the muscles and connective tissue–myofascial tissue–can trigger pain in neighboring or even distant parts of the body. In TMJ, this means that nodules in the jaw muscles refer pain to other places. The most common culprit is the masseter or cheek muscle, sometimes called the strongest muscle in the human body.
When the masseter muscle develops knots because of tension and overwork, you might experience pain in the muscle itself. Even a light touch to the muscle can lead to significant pain. However, the masseter muscle can also refer pain to the ear, the forehead, and the teeth and gums. This means that tension in the masseter muscles can lead to earache, headache, and toothache. Some people might experience more than one of these, but as we’ve said, ear pain is one of the most common.
Managing TMJ-Related Ear Pain
The key to reducing or eliminating TMJ-related ear pain is to get rid of the muscle knots in the masseter muscle. Sometimes you can achieve this at home by switching to a soft diet, applying moist heat to the masseter muscle, and generally avoiding muscle strain.
However, you should seek professional care for your TMJ if you experience:
- Disruptive or disabling symptoms (such as a locked jaw)
- Pain that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medications
- Pain that persists for more than seven days
- Pain that resolves but returns
At the Michigan Head and Neck Institute, our Detroit TMJ dentists will accurately diagnose your TMJ and help you identify the treatment most likely to relieve your symptoms. TMJ treatment might include an orthotic (mouthguard) to hold your jaw in a restful position and protect your teeth from damage. It might include therapy, such as physical therapy or behavioral therapy. It might also include trigger point injections.
Trigger point injections utilize the injection of a small amount of anesthetic at the trigger point. This relieves pain at its source, which can end pain at all the places where referred pain occurs, such as the ear, the forehead, and the teeth.
Trigger point injection can be a tricky technique to master. However, Detroit TMJ dentist Dr. Klein learned from the master and has been practicing it at the Michigan Head and Neck Institute for nearly 40 years. He knows how to effectively deploy the technique to relieve pain, wherever you might feel it.
Relief from Ear Pain in Detroit
Are you suffering from ear pain? If so, it’s likely that TMJ is the source of your pain, and the Detroit TMJ dentists at the Michigan Head and Neck Institute can help.
Please call (586) 573-0438 or use our online contact form to request an appointment today at the office of the Michigan Head and Neck Institute, serving the Detroit area from our office in Warren, MI.