Jaw pain is a big deal, and can affect every aspect of your life. It’s hard to focus on anything else when you are in pain! In my blog post last week I talked briefly about the anatomy of the temporomandibular joint – and how its complex action of sliding and hinging leads to potentially more problems than simple joints. Today I want to talk about some of the muscles involved, and one way to help relieve pain that you may be having. Two of the primary muscles involved in moving your jaw are the temporalis and masseter muscles, shown here in the diagram. These muscles are close to the surface and you can easily feel them working on yourself by holding your hand over the area and clenching your jaw. Go ahead… try it right now!
When these muscles are excessively tight or in spasm, they can generate many types of pain including headache, jaw pain, local tenderness and neck pain. Sometimes, manual stretching and massaging of these muscles is all that is required to relieve pain. I find the masseter in particular can be a significant source of problems for many people. In addition to these two muscles, there are two more muscles inside the mouth called the medial and lateral pterygoids (not to be confused with pterodactyls) which also assist in jaw movements. Although they are a little harder to get at, stretching and massaging these muscles can offer great relief. For this procedure, I feel like a dentist because it requires a gloved index finger inside your cheek near the back. One reason I became a chiropractor and not a dentist is most chiropractic adjustments don’t involve me sticking my fingers in your mouth – but even though it’s a little uncomfortable, the benefits of this stretching is worth it!
I tend not to do any manipulative work with the TMJ itself. There are adjustments that can be done to this joint similar to other joints in your body, but I prefer to go more conservative and work with the muscles around the joint. In most cases this accomplishes the same thing and is far less risky.
Next week, I’ll talk about another type of treatment for TMJ problems.