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11 Articles in Volume 6, Issue #4
Assessing Secondary Gain In Chronic Pain Patients
Chronic Overuse Sports Injuries
Introducing Low Level Laser Therapy to Pain Management
Managing Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathic Pain (DPNP)
Moral Virtue and the Pain Physician
Non-pharmacologic Therapy for Chronic Opioid-dependent Sickle Cell Pain
Osteoarthritis of the Knee
Smoking and Low Back Pain
Temporal Tendinitis Migraine Mimic
The Underutilization of Intrathecal Treatment
Tumblin’ Dice–Why Does Random Matter?

Temporal Tendinitis Migraine Mimic

Diagnosis and treatment of temporal tendonitis—a very common disorder that is often mistaken for migraine.

This article describes a very common headache disorder called temporal tendinitis1-7 which is often initiated by auto accident trauma and is complicated diagnostically by the intrinsic and extrinsic components of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and dental occlusion.

In pain management, diagnosis is key. Goethe’s maxim says “What ones knows, one sees.” Conversely, what one does not know, one does not see. When diagnosing, physicians look through a mental filter when viewing the patient. Appropriate and effective diagnosis and treatment of neck and head injuries requires both dental and medical knowledge in the areas of teeth, soft tissue, and TM joint function. If the patient has jaw joint pain and soft tissue pain, the clinician must determine which is primary and which is secondary in the diagnostic stream. In particular, it is crucial to first assess the condition of the jaw joint and its muscles and tendons before proceeding to equilibrate the teeth.

Pain Reference Sites of Temporal Tendinitis
  1. Pain at TM Joint
  2. Ear pain, stuffiness in ear
  3. Retro-orbital pain sometimes radiating to occiput and shoulder
  4. Upper and lower molar teeth ache
  5. Pain at or near the eye
  6. Lateral temple headache
  7. Sometimes, stylomandibular ligament pain
Prodromal Symptoms
  1. Nausea and/or vomiting
  2. Photophobia
  3. Visual disturbance

Figure 1. Temporal muscle and its tendon inserting at the mandibular coronoid process. Courtesy Ernest Publications

Intense, chronic head pain of questionable origin has been a dilemma for patients and doctors alike. The patient may often complain of pain and an aching sensation over the eye, behind the eye, radiating into the lateral temple over the ear, and into the occiput, or the rear of the head. The pain may radiate from the rear of the head into the neck, shoulder, back, as well as the arm and hand. The cheek and cheek-bone areas may be reported to be swollen along with aching and throbbing. The eye may feel sore and feel as if the eye ball is trying to pop out of the socket. With many patients suffering from temporal tendonitis,8-12 the ear, jaw joint, insertion of the stylomandibular ligament, and the upper and lower molar teeth may ache and throb. The range of vertical opening of the mouth may also be restricted due to the contracture of the injured temporal tendon. Another feature of temporal tendinitis is seen in some patients who do not seem to be able to close the back teeth together.1 This problem isapparently related to the inability of the injured tendon (splinting effect) to properly contract due to pain and inflammation.

When the headache is intense, the patient will often seek the help of analgesics and or sedatives to try to sleep off the headache. Often, the patient will go to a hospital emergency room in the evening hours seeking relief from the pain. When the exam is inconclusive, the patient is often treated as a classic migraine case. It is not unusual for the examining doctor, when confronted with temporal tendonitis, to suspect migraine headache since the history taken will often include a prodromal experience, severe headache, photophobia, nausea, and vomiting when the pain is at its worst. The pain may be hemicranial or bicranial depending on the degree of injury or degree of degenerative change at the tendon insertion zone. However, the E.R. doctor will not likely know about temporal tendinitis, nor will he know that it is known in the Craniofacial pain field as “the Migraine Mimic" (coined by the author in 1983).

Materials and Methods

The temporal muscle (see Figure 1) is fan-shaped at its origin on the temporal bone of the skull and occupies most of the lateral surface. The muscle is divided into anterior, middle, and posterior fibers; and is typically composed of two tendon insertions. The short tendon, or lateral head, inserts on the coronoid process, while the long tendon, or medial head, inserts at the base of the ascending ramus of the mandible. Though both tendons are clinical pain entities, this paper’s focus is the short tendon and its attachment on the coronoid process and its tip (see Figure 2) where insertion tendinosis occurs. The standard or protocol to determine whether the patient actually exhibits temporal tendinitis is to palpate (see Figure 3) the insertion of the tendon at the coronoid process of the mandible. Pressure should increase the intensity of pain suffered by the patient (see Figure 4), and should exacerbate the reference sites in pain intensity as well. If the provocation of the headache pain with digital pressure is successful, then local anesthetic infiltration at the medial surface is accomplished with a very slow rate of injection, about ½ cc per minute (see Figure 5). If the pain is remitted while anesthetized, then the slow injection rate may help to mediate what will likely be a painful post-injection flare experience, if insertion tendinosis is present. Insertion tendinosis13 means that there is cellular focal necrosis and the tendinitis will not have the capacity to heal with non-surgical management.

Figure 2. Depiction of degenerative insertion fibers at tip of coronoid process. Courtesy Ernest Publications. Figure 3. Pain referral pattern in temporal tendonitis. Courtesy Ernest Publications. Figure 4. Palpation of temporal tendon insertion at coronoid process. Courtesy Ernest Publications. Figure 5. Local anesthetic injection. Courtesy Ernest Publications. Figure 6. Radiofrequency needle. Courtesy Ernest Publications. Figure 7. Owl RF Generator Model URF-2AP (Canadian Medical Devices, Toronto, Canada)

If the injection of local anesthetic temporarily eliminates the painful complex of symptoms, then a cortisone preparation or sarapin injectible is infiltrated medial to the tendon. Avoid actually inserting the needle into the tendon sheath, as this will be a very painful experience for the patient and will exacerbate any post-injection flare that may result from the injection. If the TMJ pain and/or stylomandibular ligament pain is present prior to the injection but is at least temporarily remitted with the block, then the contracted temporal tendon has loaded the TM joint and the stylomandibular ligament. The loading effect has created pain in these areas and may simply be secondary reactive sites, rather than primary sites of injury.

Do not attempt to equilibrate at this point until the painful symptoms have abated, and you have proved that the dentition is the primary etiology. The proving of this may be difficult as there may be a primary TM joint problem, a primary temporal tendon problem, etc; sorting out the symptoms may prove a challenge even to the most experienced diagnostician. If one equilibrates a primary temporal tendon problem created by auto accident trauma or some other trauma incident, then one will have removed enamel that the patient may well need when the pain of temporal tendinitis is solved.

If the temporal tendinitis proves to be the primary condition, and repeated injections of local anesthetic and cortisone or sarapin do not solve the condition, then surgery may well be indicated to solve the complex of pain suffered by the patient. The surgical method developed by the author in 1983, and approved by the American Medical Association in 1986,14 involves utilization of radiofrequency thermoneurolyis (RFTN)—a radio wave modality similar in theory to dental electrosurgery. RFTN has a twenty-five year history of unqualified success in dental medicine and over fifty years of success in medicine.11-18


The patient is anesthetized intra-orally with local anesthetic at the temporal tendon and, utilizing fluoroscopic monitoring, the radiofrequency probe or needle (see Figure 6) is passed to the tip of the coronoid process. After the probe position is determined to be safely positioned with no sensory nor motor stimulus (see Figure 7), the probe or needle is activated and a RFTN lesion is created. The patient is then released to be seen post-operatively the next day to evaluate the benefit of the RFTN procedure. If possible, the patient should be seen two weeks later to evaluate the TM joint and the dental occlusion to be sure that “normal status" has been achieved for the patient.


The condition described as temporal tendinitis was discovered by this author in 1982-1983, and the RFTN procedure was developed in 1983-1984. Since the initial publication of temporal tendinitis in 1983, many cases of temporal tendinitis have been diagnosed and treated both non-surgically and surgically by dentists and physicians, with resulting successes. It is the author’s hope that this paper will encourage the dentist to consider temporal tendinitis when confronted with dental tooth pain that may be a referred pain rather than a primary dental condition. Nothing is more frustrating than doing a root canal procedure on a molar tooth that is actually a referred site of pain from temporal tendinitis.

Last updated on: December 28, 2011
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