TMJ: Self-Care for Your Masseter

By Judith DeLany , LMT
2010-6-17

TMJ: Self-Care for Your Masseter

By Judith DeLany , LMT
2010-6-17

Today, as many people try to get more done in the day than the minutes allow, you might discover that you are clenching your teeth, even during the daytime. This is a common reaction to stressful situations, and even more common when the stress is unrelenting and the pressures of time management unyielding. Many of us clench our teeth without being aware of it and very often have tight temporomandibular joint (TMJ) muscles, without necessarily displaying any overt symptoms.


Location and Function

The temporomandibular (TM) joints are located just anterior to the opening of each ear and are involved in chewing, talking and displaying a wide range of facial expressions, all of which goes on practically unnoticed. It is rather remarkable that jaw movements occur in most people without any problem, especially considering the incongruent and naturally unstable design of this joint. Temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD) may develop, with symptoms that include headache, in a variety of patterns including: migraine (Fig. 1), toothache (Fig. 2), burning or tingling sensations in the face, tenderness and swelling on the sides of the face, clicking or popping of the jaw, reduced range of motion, ear pain without infection, hearing changes, dizziness, and sinus-type responses.

If caught in the early stages, dysfunction might be avoided by simply becoming aware of habits of clenching and/or grinding of the teeth, especially as associated with stress, and by reducing muscular pressure on the joint and its articular disc.


Spotlight on Masseter

A number of muscles act upon the TM joint. Masseter, capable of exerting hundreds of pounds of pressure, is the most powerful. It is comprised of three layers, stacking upon each other and filling out the region of the lateral cheek. It is involved primarily with chewing, clenching, strong closure of the jaws, and, to some degree, postural positioning and balancing the jaw, particularly when head position changes. It is overworked by habits of daily life, particularly chewing gum, clenching and grinding the teeth, as well as internalizing emotional distress.

Treatment is indicated for masseter when the range of opening of the mouth is restricted or when there is pain or other sensations in areas of the TM joint and trigger point target zones of referral. However, even when no symptoms exist, releasing masseter can immediately produce a feeling of lightness in the face and the resultant feeling of stress relief.


NMT Intraoral Masseter Release

A complete intraoral protocol is part of the Neuromuscular Therapy training for temporomandibular dysfunction. It is strongly recommended that practitioners receive appropriate training before working inside the mouth of clients/patients. However, it is easy to following these steps for a personal experience of releasing your own masseter. After releasing the first side, pause to open and close the mouth and to feel the (sometimes extraordinary) relaxation of the face on the side that has been treated.

Although a glove can be worn for self-application, a thoroughly scrubbed, bare finger is acceptable in one's own mouth. A protective barrier should always be worn when treating someone else. Nitrile or vinyl (full-hand) gloves are better choices than latex, which often causes allergic reaction.


Editor's Note: Proper training of Neuromuscular Therapy should be completed prior to working on a client. As stated in the article, the author is not advocating working inside the client's mouth before proper training. For more information on Neuromuscular Therapy and Judith DeLany go to: www.nmtcenter.com.