Can a concussion cause jaw pain?

Yes. Head injuries and concussion can cause pain in your jaw as well as in the bones and muscles of your head, neck and shoulders. Temporomandibular joint disorder (injury to the jaw joint and jaw muscles) is a specific condition that can sometimes happen after hitting your head. Also, the main symptom of concussion – headache – can be the result of spasms and inflammation in your jaw muscles following a blow to the jaw.

What is a “sub-concussive” blow? How many times does a person have to be hit before showing signs of an injury?

First, every person is different. Many people can take a blow to the head without feeling or showing signs of sustaining a concussion. This is called a sub-concussive blow. In theory, one would think that taking several blows to the head would potentially “add up” to the point that the blows would cause concussion or brain injury. However, this has not been shown to be true.

There is no set number of blows and no exact or collected degree of force from blows over time that has been shown to result in a concussive injury. However we do know if you experience a blow and have shown or felt symptoms of concussion or have been diagnosed with a concussion and you continue to participate, you are at increased risk of permanent brain injury if you were to experience another concussion before you have fully healed and are 100% symptom-free.

How is whiplash, which sometimes happens along with concussion, treated?

Ongoing neck pain is a common complaint in both auto accidents and concussions. The head is bent back and forth on the cervical spine, which results in neck muscle injury and irritation. Useful treatments for whiplash include:

  • Taking anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®), aspirin, or naproxen (Aleve®).
  • Learning proper head/neck posture, especially when working on the computer or watching television.
  • Physical therapy with a PT trained in either concussion or cervical spine.
  • Massage.
  • Temporarily keeping the neck still by using a soft foam neck brace (“immobilization”).
  • Applying ice and/or heat (sessions of 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off).
  • Injections of steroids and lidocaine into the nerve at the base of the skull to relieve pain.

Your healthcare provider can give you more specific information on these treatments or where to turn for more help.

Should someone with a concussion be woken from sleep at regular intervals?

This is a myth. This is outdated information that may even slow the recovery process. Rest helps the brain recover from a concussion. However, it’s reasonable to check on the concussed person while they sleep to make sure their breathing pattern hasn’t changed or to briefly wake them up to make sure their symptoms are not getting worse. The concussed person should be immediately seen by doctors if they fall asleep shortly after receiving a concussion or can’t be woken up.

How many concussions are too many? When should an athlete retire from their sport?

There is no general agreement on when to retire from sports due to head injuries. There are many factors to consider including:

  • Number of head injuries/concussions.
  • How long it took to fully recover from each concussion.
  • How close together, in time, each concussion occurred.

Each concussion ups the odds of having another concussion. Each concussion is different. Each person’s reaction and ability to recover is different. You and your healthcare provider should discuss your history of concussions and be able to decide what is in you or your loved one’s best interest.

What type of healthcare provider treats concussion?

If you, your son or daughter or your older parent has experienced a mild blow to the head, you can see your family medical doctor or your pediatrician first for an initial exam. If a concussion is suspected, you may be referred to other doctors and healthcare providers who specialize in the evaluation and management of concussions. These clinicians include:

  • Neurologists, neurosurgeons and neuropsychologists.
  • Sports medicine specialists, exercise medicine physicians, athletic trainers.
  • Neuro-ophthalmologists, vestibular therapists (therapists who specialize in dizziness symptoms ad cervical pain).

A Note from Cleveland Clinic

  • Consider all head injuries as a potentially serious event. If you have a “gut instinct” that something more might be wrong or worry that a fall on the head or blow to the head needs to be checked out, do it. Call your doctor or go to the emergency room.
  • Rest. Rest is one of the most important treatments for a concussion because it helps the brain to heal. Rest nearly completely for the first few days after a head injury, then slowly begin to “exercise your brain.” The unused, “stagnant” brain remains stagnant if not used and lengthens recovery. But too much use overstimulates the brain and can cause symptoms to return or worsen. Take a slow approach. Identify and avoid or limit your time doing things that cause symptoms. For example, if symptoms increase with the bright light of a computer or smartphone, adjust the brightness setting, wear sunglasses or strictly limit your time on these devices. Ease into normal activities slowly, not all at once.
  • Don’t drink alcohol without your doctor's okay. Alcohol and other drugs may slow recovery and increase the chance for further injury.
  • Don’t drive until cleared by your doctor. Your reaction time could be slower until you fully recover.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/02/2020.

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