This year has been a relatively heavy one for snow along the Front Range. It took a while to get started, but once the sky opened up, we’ve had fairly heavy snowfalls every couple weeks. And with the traditionally snowiest months of March and April still to come, it looks like your shoveling arms are getting their workout this year.

But while the exercise might be good for your biceps, maybe it’s not so good for the rest of you. Shoveling snow can hurt your back if not done properly. And for some people, the task comes with a headache, one that can start during or after the work, and may continue for hours or even days. If you’re experiencing these types of headaches, it may be a sign that you have TMJ, a temporomandibular joint disorder (also called TMD), which we can help treat.

Brown shoe and blue jeans pushing green shovel in the snow to clear a path. Is the snow causing you headaches?

The Connected Body

Why does shoveling snow cause headaches? It seems like your arms and your back should be doing all the work. Why does it hurt your head?

The reason your head hurts is that your muscles are actually a complicated, interconnected network. The muscles work together to accomplish tasks like lifting and moving snow. And the harder you work, the more muscles get involved.

Next time you’re shoveling, pay attention to the muscles that you’re using. You’ll find that for what seems like simple lifting with your arms, your body is actually activating muscles from the lower back to the neck. All of these muscles help steady and support the body to make it a stable, strong platform for your arms to work.

The Key Role of Your Jaw

Humans are unusual animals. Our upright stance with a large, heavy head, is unique, and it demands unique solutions, including a strong structure of support.

One key component in that support is the jaw. The jaw is a major bony attachment for the largest muscles in the head, as well as some in the neck. The jaw provides a major point of stability for the head, helping to anchor it during exertion so that all your muscles can work more efficiently. Ideally, this should happen with little effort, but if your jaw isn’t in the proper position, the jaw muscles will work hard trying to pull it there so it can better stabilize the head. You may feel this as well when you’re shoveling the snow: your jaw clenching down hard as you strain to lift the snow. This is one form of TMJ that many people struggle with for years.

And it’s what causes you headaches: tension from the body’s efforts are being pass on to the head and neck, and amplified by an unhealthy and inefficient jaw position. This makes jaw muscles and other muscles in the head and neck work harder than necessary, leading to tension headaches.

Restoring the Body’s Efficient Structure

We want to help your body use its strength most efficiently by repositioning the jaw. This puts the jaw where it can most effectively stabilize the skull and provide an anchor for necessary muscle movements. This can reduce or eliminate jaw clenching when you’re working out, and when that jaw clenching is gone, you’ll experience fewer headaches, and lighter headaches.

We typically use an oral splint to reposition your jaw. At first, you may wear this splint all the time, but after a while, you’ll switch to wearing it only at night as your muscles get better acclimated.

If your teeth have experienced damage as a result of your jaw clenching, we might recommend rebuilding the damaged teeth, potentially using that to help reposition the jaw.

Be Ready for the Colorado Snow

If you are tired of getting headaches from shoveling the snow, let us help. Please call (303) 691-0267 today for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado in Denver.