The masseter muscle provides the biting power for chewing. It is a contributor to temporomandibular joint dysfunction and pain. Trigger points in the masseter contribute to pain in the jaw, upper, and lower teeth. It can also refer pain above the eye, below the eye into the cheek, and the ear.
Contents of Article
    Masseter Muscle Showing Trigger Points Location

    Where Is The Masseter Muscle?

    The masseter is a facial muscle and lies in front of the ear and connects the top portion of the upper jaw (zygomatic arch and maxilla) to the lower portion of the bottom jaw (coronoid process, ramus of mandible).

    What Movements Does It Control?

    • Closes the jaws by drawing up the lower jaw
    • Clenches teeth

     For detailed anatomy information: Masseter Anatomy Page


    What pain and symptoms are associated with the masseter muscle?

    Masseter Referred Pain Pattern
    Jaw and Mouth Pain

    Trigger points (TrPs) in the masseter cause pain in the muscle and muscle tightness, restricting opening the mouth. TrPs can also cause the back upper and lower teeth to become hypersensitive to hot, cold, and touch. You may experience toothaches in perfectly healthy teeth.

    Ear Aches and Tinnitus
    Trigger points in the masseter can also contribute to deep aching pain and itching deep down in the ear. You may also experience a feeling of your ear being plugged, somewhat like you feel when you get water in the ear canal. A constant low roaring sound may also be experienced.

    Headaches and Sinusitis
    Pain over the eye and below the eye that mimics sinusitis can also be a symptom of trigger points in the masseter. TrPs can even cause sinus drainage. If you are having the symptoms of sinusitis and medication does not bring relief, check the masseter for trigger points.

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    If you suffer from TMJ, chronic jaw pain, or sinus pain, the Headache Hat will help relieve your pain. The hat has two layers of cooling compartments that encircle the head, providing the recommended cold therapy and compression. It can be pulled down over the face to treat sinus and jaw pain.

    What Causes Trigger Points In the Masseter Muscle?

    Jaw Clenching and Grinding Teeth
    Clenching your jaw overworks and tightens the muscle, which will cause soreness and the development of TrPs. If you tend to clench your jaw while stressed or in deep thought, you need to be aware and stop. When you feel yourself clenching, stop and relax your jaw by opening your mouth slightly and moving your jaw side to side.

    Grinding your teeth not only affects your teeth but affects many muscles in the face and neck. Most people grind their teeth at night and will need a mouthpiece to stop.

    Chewing Gum and Crunching Ice
    The masseter is the power chewing muscle that allows us to grind food into small pieces to be swallowed. Habitually biting down on hard items such as ice overworks the masseter, affecting other muscles.

    Though gum is soft, the constant chewing movement overworks the muscle causing soreness, tightness, and TrP development.

    If you have unexplained jaw and face pain and/or headaches, check your masseter muscle for trigger points.

    Ill-Fitting Mouth Pieces
    Mouthpieces such as a retainer, dental bridges, or dentures that do not fit correctly can cause tightness, soreness, and the development of trigger points in the masseter.

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    Sleeping without proper head and neck support is sure to aggravate facial, neck, and shoulder muscles. The Sweetnight Pillow has adjustable filling and is highly recommended for its neck support.

    Masseter Muscle Trigger Point Treatment

    The masseter muscle is easily self-treated. You will need to put your thumb in your mouth and use your fingertips on the outside of the cheek to feel for small knots, tight bands of tissue, and exceptionally sore areas.
    Putting the thumb in the mouth back toward the jaw joint, start searching for small knots and tight bands of tissue that cause pain to increase. If you find an area, apply gentle to medium pressure for 10 seconds and then continue your search doing the same for each tender area. Do not apply pressure for longer than 10 seconds as this will aggravate the area causing more soreness and pain. Trigger points respond best to several small treatments spread throughout the day. Continue treatments until the areas are no longer sore and producing pain.
    It is also highly recommended that you get a copy of The Trigger Point WorkbookIf you find trigger points in your mouth, you will likely develop TrPs in other muscles that need treatment. The workbook will help walk you through finding and treating these.

    TWD Recommends

    The best resource to learn how to treat small painful knots is The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. The authors explain trigger points and their effects in everyday language, not medical speak. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning to treat their own muscle pain.

    Interesting facts about the masseter muscle

    • A tight masseter can cause vocal problems for singers and public speakers.
    • Trigger points in the masseter can contribute to bags under the eyes.

    TWD Recommends

    The LotFancy Gel Pack for Jaw Pain can be used for hot or cold treatments. Recommended to those who deal with the pain and symptoms of TMJ.

    Clinical diagnoses to which the masseter muscle symptoms may contribute:

    • Temporal mandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ)
    • Mastoiditis
    • Ear pain that is similar to an ear infection
    • Tinnitus (ringing in the ear) on the affected side
    • Sinusitis
    • Jaw Dislocation
    • Abscessed Tooth
    • Sensitive Teeth
    • C2 radiculopathy


    Other muscles that should be considered and examined in conjunction with the masseter:

     Satellite trigger points associated with the muscle:

    If you find trigger points in the masseter muscle you will want to check these muscles for additional trigger points.
    • Temporalis
    • Medial Pterygoids
    • Contralateral Masseter Muscle

    Find additional muscles that may contribute to these symptoms:


    Muscles With Similar Pain Patterns

    Temporalis Muscle
    Buccinator Muscle
    Sternocleidomastoid Muscle