My favourite external jaw self massage techniques
When you have tight muscles, especially in your jaw, a massage sounds amazing, right?! But, what if you can’t get in to see a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) right away and are suffering from pain caused by tension (think jaw pain, tension headaches, even sometimes tooth pain!). Self massage can be the answer!
Why jaw self massage can be so easy!
Think about it – when you have a “knot” (or “trigger point” as we like to call it in the massage therapy world) in your back, it’s pretty hard to reach. You have to use a lacrosse ball on the wall or floor, or ask your partner to press around the area and hope they can find the spot that’s bothering you. Massaging your back yourself, with your two bare hands can be quite the task. Your jaw, on the other hand (no pun intended!), is definitely reachable with your two hands. You can touch your jaw and head without having to contort your body into a human pretzel! There’s also no lotion or equipment required. Pretty awesome right?!
Let’s find those trigger points
There is a lot of information out there regarding methods for massaging, rubbing, and pressing on the face to cause benefit. Self massage can be described as the act of applying specific pressure to specific anatomical structures – in our case – muscles of the jaw! Ideally, we are on the hunt for trigger points. Those pesky, pain causing, “nodules” in the muscle belly (muscle belly = the part of the muscle that contracts, it does not include tendon or ligaments). They can feel like little lumps, bumps, or can even present as a rope-y band kind of like a guitar string.
Try it out now: place your fingertips on the sides of your mouth (cheeks), right in font of your ear and make small circular motions. Do you feel any lumps or bumps? Many people will, and if you did, you just touched one, two, or many trigger points!
Understanding the anatomy of the jaw
Let’s orient ourselves with the actions and muscles of the jaw so that we know what we are touching. The main actions of the jaw consist of: closing/clenching (elevation), opening (depression), protrusion (think underbite), and retraction (think overbite).
Keep reading to see which self massage techniques I think are the best to help relieve your pain.
Muscles affected most by temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD)
When jaw dysfunction (TMD) or pain is present there are a few muscles that are often affected more than others. Those include the masseter, temporalis, lateral pterygoid, and medial pterygoid. Let’s leave out the lateral and medial pterygoid for now, as this is a deep muscle that is a bit tricky to target with external self massage.
Remember! These muscles can be irritable – especially if there is already some dysfunction in the jaw so be sure to start out with light pressure and build up to moderate. Self massage should never be painful and be sure to avoid just “digging” into the muscle as this will only lead to flare ups later.
Self massage for the masseter muscle
Let’s use our fingertips for this one. If you palpated (felt) for trigger points in the exercise above then you are halfway there! Use your fingertips of your pointer and middle finger to make small circular motions on your cheeks in front of your ear. Don’t go too far forward otherwise you’ll run into your cheek tissue and will no longer be on the masseter muscle. Draw small circles starting at your check bone and going all the way down to your jaw bone. Repeat this 7- 10 times.
Self massage for the temporalis muscle
In come our knuckles which are excellent tools to deliver a bit more pressure with a broad contact. I like to use my proximal interphalangeal joints (PIPs – the “middle” knuckle of the fingers) to gently massage this muscle. Start with your PIPs about one inch above your ear and make small circular motions. This will be on top of your hair. Then go forward and back, drawing a rainbow shape around the ear with your knuckles. Repeat this 7-10 times.
Massaging these muscles should bring some relief to your jaw symptoms. Try them out when you are in pain and let me know how it went at your initial or next appointment.
Victoria Webster, RMT, BSc. (Kin)
Victoria is a Registered Massage Therapist who is passionate about helping people who are living with head, neck, and jaw pain.