The Masseter Muscle
The masseter muscle provides the biting power for chewing. It is a contributor to the pain caused by temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ).
Trigger points in the masseter cause and contribute to pain in the jaw, upper, and lower teeth. It can refer pain above the eye, below the eye into the cheek, and into the ear.
Contents of Article
What pain and symptoms are associated with the masseter muscle?
Jaw and Mouth Pain
The masseter affects the movement of the jaw so much of the pain caused by the muscle is in the area around the jaw.
Trigger points (TrPs) in the masseter not only cause pain in the muscle but also muscle tightness which can restrict 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.
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 Pate
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. If you are having unexplained jaw and face pain and/or headaches check your masseter muscle for trigger points.
Chewing Gum and Crunching Ice
The masseter is the power chewing muscle which allows us to grind food into small pieces to be swallowed. Habitually biting down on hard items such as ice, overworks the masseter which will also affect other muscles.
Though gum is soft the constant chewing movement also overworks the muscle causing soreness, tightness, and TrP development.
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 Workbook. If you find trigger points in your mouth you will likely develop TrPs in other muscles that will need treatment. The workbook will help walk you through finding and treating these.
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.
The masseter muscle can contribute to pain throughout the side of the head and the facial area. The Huggaroo Head Wrap can bring needed relief. It can be used warm or cold for headaches, jaw/cheek pain, TMJ, and eye strain.
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
Clinical diagnoses to which the masseter muscle symptoms may contribute:
- Temporal mandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ)
- Ear pain that is similar to an ear infection
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear) on the affected side
- Jaw Dislocation
- Abscessed Tooth
- Sensitive Teeth
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.
- Medial Pterygoids
- Contralateral Masseter Muscle
Other Muscles With Similar Pain Patterns
Twelve years of experience working with clients with chronic pain, post injury pain, and post surgery pain. Muscle dysfunction is often overlooked but can hold the key to many pain conditions.