The masseter muscle is the most famous of the muscles of mastication. Its primary job is to elevate and protrude (stick out) the mandible. However, it is such a big muscle that some of its fibers protrude the jaw while deep muscle fibers retrude (pull in) it. This is the only muscle of mastication that lives outside the infratemporal fossa (cool bit of geek trivia).
I like the masseter muscle because relatively speaking to the other muscles of mastication it is a very easy muscle to work on and it is very rewarding. I would say that by just working on the masseter muscle and the temporalis muscle I can relieve 60% of most TMJ cases that I see. It is also one of the most rewarding muscles in the whole body to work on because it is so obvious when the trigger points start to melt away. Out of all the muscle work techniques out there, trigger point therapy is my favorite technique for the muscles of mastication. Because you are working in such a small area there isn’t a lot of space to be moving around so trigger point therapy is ideal.
Cases for having a chiropractor or massage therapist work on your masseter muscle:
- TMJ pain
- Your jaw doesn’t track smoothly when you open and close your jaw
- You get popping noises when you move your jaw
Home care for the masseter muscle
The masseter muscle is at work when you are chewing, talking, or clenching your jaw. If you are having TMJ pain it is a good idea to decrease these activities. Eat less crunchy or chewy food. Talk less; especially talking on the phone where you hold the phone with the side of your head instead of with your hands or using a head set. Don’t clench or grind your teeth. This last one is easier said than done. Most of us don’t realize when we are clenching or grinding our teeth. The first step in trying to stop grinding your teeth is to take note of when you are stressed out. For many of us this is when we are driving, during meetings, or working on the computer. Think about the things that stress you out in life and then check in with your jaw while you are doing them. Is your jaw loose or are you clenching. There are biofeedback tricks for working on these habits and there are also mouth guards that can help. I recommend using both techniques to help with clenching and grinding. Getting over TMJ pain (or at least reducing it) usually requires a team of health care providers. You will absolutely want a dentist, but I would also recommend a chiropractor, massage therapist, and/or a PT.