Treating TMJ Issues: choose a practitioner who works on your lateral pterygoids

Recently I’ve had two clients come in for TMJ relief sessions who have previously seen multiple practitioners who worked inside their mouths. Between them, they have seen chiropractors, chiropractic neurologists, Rolfers, dentists trained by the Las Vegas Institute (LVI), and/or other massage therapists.

These clients both told me, “No one has ever touched me there,” after I worked on their lateral pterygoid muscles.

That surprised me.

These small muscles are hard to access, being nearly surrounded by bones (cut away in the image below so you can see the two-headed muscle), and in my opinion, they are often the keys for releasing jaw tension and also for relieving clicking and popping noises. (Notice that the upper head is attached to the articular disc that separates the temporal bone and the mandible —the two bones of the TMJs.)

anatomy of the jaw muscles

It’s not that the other jaw muscles don’t contribute. They do. I’ve found tension in the temporalises, trigger points in the masseters, and taut bands in the medial pterygoids.

I usually save the lateral pterygoids for last when working on someone’s internal jaw muscles, because they are harder to access. It helps to have tiny pinky fingers, and even then sometimes I need to ask a client to shift their jaw to the side so I can reach them.

Sometimes I can’t reach them on the first visit, but any release of tension in this area near the joint is therapeutic.

People are not aware that there are jaw muscles here! I’m touching in a place where people never get touched. This area can be sensitive.

When I get on or near a lateral pterygoid, it can be a revelation. “That’s the place!” they exclaim when I remove my finger.

Once I get there, I don’t need to stay long.

It’s not that these other intra-oral practitioners mentioned above (at least in these two clients’ experiences) have nothing to offer. I’m not familiar with all of them, but chiropractors, Rolfers, and massage therapists have all helped me.

But if jaw pain and tension are your major complaint, and you’d like a sense of spaciousness in your jaws (if you can even imagine how great that would feel), find a practitioner that works on the lateral pterygoids.

I hope this information helps you ask informed questions when choosing a practitioner to relieve your jaw tension and pain.


What to do if you have jaw issues? I offer a 30-minute in-person TMJ consultation to gather information and evaluate your issues. I also teach clenchers an alternative to clenching and provide known ways to stop grinding, from those who succeeded.

These habits are major contributors to TMJ issues, and you can change them.

If you’re not in Austin, I can do the above as well as help you learn what to ask about when seeking TMJ relief near you. Just let me know if you need a phone or Zoom consultation.

I offer a combination TMJ Consultation plus TMJ Relief session in person in Austin, Texas, and in Taos, NM, in sumemrs. The consultation serves as an intake, so I have a better idea of what your issues are and how we’ll measure progress. Your consultation is free when combined with your first TMJ Relief session. This is a two-hour session.

To be fair, when you’ve had TMJ issues for a long time, or they are acute, you may need multiple sessions to retrain your system to retain the ease and alignment, along with doing your homework to stop clenching or grinding your teeth.

I offer a package of four TMJ Relief sessions for 10 percent off single sessions, best done a week or two apart. These sessions are 90 minutes and integrate various bodywork modalities — including work in your mouth — so that you feel great when you get off the table. They are best done over 4 to 6 weeks.

If you’re really adventurous, you can schedule a 75-minute Self-Treatment for TMJ Issues session on Zoom where we’ll do an intake and I will teach you how to work on releasing the tension patterns that cause problems, including working in your own mouth. You’ll need clean hands and short nails. It’s really not that hard! Learn more about it here.


Treating TMJ issues: types, causes, and exercises

I have discovered an excellent source of information about TMJ pain and dysfunction. It’s a great website called Be My Healer offered by a doctor of physical therapy, Sophie Xie.

She’s got a couple of posts about TMJ issues. I am impressed with the quality of her posts in terms of credible information, writing to a lay audience, and her images. You go, Dr. Sophie Xie!

First, this article helps distinguish between types and causes of TMJ dysfunction. In short:

  • Type 1 is arthrogenous TMJ, meaning the problem is related to the functioning of the bony temporomandibular joint. There are two causes: arthritis and disc displacement. She recommends the best treatments for each cause. (Exercises* can help .)
  • Type 2 is myogenous, meaning muscle-related. Causes include bruxism (clenching and/or grinding), muscle imbalance (such as forward head posture, chewing on the same side, playing the violin), and systemic influence causing muscle tension (such as chronic stress, fibromyalgia, PMS).

Dr. Sophie Xie writes, “TMJ massage therapy can help by releasing the tense mastication muscle and provide pain and stress relief. However, you will need to call around to find a massage therapist who is specialized in intraoral release to receive the most targeted treatment.”

Here’s me raising my hand, signaling “Pick me!” I can help with all of the muscle-related types of TMD. I offer intra-oral work, help relieve forward-head posture, and help you relax from stress.

Again, exercises* can also help.

  • Type 3 is idiopathic, referring to a single cause: trauma impacting the joint  from accidents, injuries, dental treatments, even violent laughing or yawning.

Dr. Sophie Xie writes, “Post-traumatic TMJ pain is highly preventable. Early intervention such as physical therapy and massage therapy are excellent in preventing scar formation and muscle stiffness​. Gentle and progressive jaw stretching and exercises* will build a strong muscle function to keep chronic and repetitive TMJ pain away.”

Again, I can help.

*In her post Say goodbye to TMJ pain with these 5 convenient jaw exercises, Dr. Sophie Xie describes and shows (with delightful illustrations) exercises to strengthen and balance your jaw muscles.

She writes, “Most people experience significant TMJ pain reduction with daily exercises after 5-6 weeks. You should experience even faster results if you are also combining TMJ massage therapy with a nightly mouth guard.”

Her website has a contact page if you want to work with her. (I believe she’s practicing in Washington state.)

If you are in Austin, Texas, I’m happy to help.


Treating TMJ issues: releasing trigger points in your jaw muscles

You have nine jaw muscles: two pairs of large ones on the outside of your head (the masseters and temporalises), four small ones inside your mouth (two medial pterygoids and two lateral pterygoids), and one in the floor of your mouth (digastric).

Any of them can get trigger points.

What is a trigger point? It’s unhealthy muscle tissue that causes pain that can occur locally to the trigger point or at some distance — referred pain.

Healthy muscle tissue is made of bundles of fibers that run in the same direction. This tissue is pliable. It contains fluid. It stretches or contracts when you move.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 8.36.04 AMA trigger point is a spot where the muscle tissue has lost its pliability. A massage therapist may feel that some tissue in a particular spot feels hard, creating a small nodule that’s hard and stiff. The tissue feels dense and often rolls under the fingers when compared to healthy muscle tissue.

Trigger points cause that band of muscle fibers within a muscle to shorten and tighten, restricting full range of movement of the entire muscle.

Trigger points feel tender when you apply pressure to them.

Where several of them occur in an area, they form “constellations.” If one of those trigger points in the constellation is the primary one and the rest are satellites, it takes trial and error to locate and treat the primary one — and until that happens, the satellites keep reoccurring.

This makes them the tricksters of the nervous system, and it’s why specialists in trigger point therapy are rare and sought after.

You can work on your own trigger points to release them. It helps if you’ve received trigger point work from an experienced massage therapist, but you can learn to do it yourself. Even then, you may prefer to have a massage therapist work on them, especially if you have a lot of them.

Even with an experienced therapist working on your trigger points, sometimes the body clearly says “no more today,” a signal to move on to another technique and schedule another session.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 8.08.14 AMMy favorite reference book for working with trigger points is The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, third edition, by Clair Davies and Amber Davies.

It is written for laypeople to release their own trigger points, but many massage therapists use it as a reference book in their offices. I got my copy spiral-bound for ease of use.

When I am working on TMJ issues, I sometimes notice that people have trigger points in their masseters, the big external jaw muscles on the sides of your face that run from your cheekbone to the bottom of your jawbone.

Here’s how to find trigger points in your own jaw: using a bit of pressure, drag your fingers slowly down the masseter muscle on both sides of your face. Do this several times, experimenting with adding pressure, and notice if there are tender spots or small dense spots that roll under your fingers. Repeat on the other masseter.

If you don’t have masseter trigger points, this usually feels pretty good.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 8.41.19 AM
Left: trigger point locations in the left masseter. Right: areas of associated pain. Source: The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you find trigger points in your masseters (and you can have other TMJ issues without them), there are several ways of treating them.

Some therapists apply a huge amount of pressure. I don’t recommend this because if you have TMJ issues, your jaw is probably already out of alignment, and applying lots of pressure could make it worse.

A better way, in my opinion, is to use less pressure. Yes, you can gently release trigger points!

I learned to do this from a local (Austin) massage therapist, Rose of Sharon, who is very experienced with trigger point release. She’s worked on me and released many trigger points, teaching me how to do this in the process.

If you have a lot of trigger points, I highly recommend seeing her. She’s amazing at discovering patterns if you have “constellations” of trigger points.

If you are interested in having her work on you, you can reach her by phone or text at 512-282-1672. Please leave a message with your name and number so she can contact you.


What to do if you have jaw issues? I offer a 30-minute in-person TMJ consultation to gather information and evaluate your issues. I also teach clenchers an alternative to clenching and provide known ways to stop grinding, from those who succeeded.

These habits are major contributors to TMJ issues, and you can change them.

If you’re not in Austin, I can do the above as well as help you learn what to ask about when seeking TMJ relief near you. Just let me know if you need a phone or Zoom consultation.

I offer a combination TMJ Consultation plus TMJ Relief session in person in Austin, Texas, and in Taos, NM, in sumemrs. The consultation serves as an intake, so I have a better idea of what your issues are and how we’ll measure progress. Your consultation is free when combined with your first TMJ Relief session. This is a two-hour session.

To be fair, when you’ve had TMJ issues for a long time, or they are acute, you may need multiple sessions to retrain your system to retain the ease and alignment, along with doing your homework to stop clenching or grinding your teeth.

I offer a package of four TMJ Relief sessions for 10 percent off single sessions, best done a week or two apart. These sessions are 90 minutes and integrate various bodywork modalities — including work in your mouth — so that you feel great when you get off the table. They are best done over 4 to 6 weeks.

If you’re really adventurous, you can schedule a 75-minute Self-Treatment for TMJ Issues session on Zoom where we’ll do an intake and I will teach you how to work on releasing the tension patterns that cause problems, including working in your own mouth. You’ll need clean hands and short nails. It’s really not that hard! Learn more about it here.

Treating TMJ issues: what various professions do to help

What do various healing professions do to treat TMJ issues?

I’m going to try to answer that, to help you be better health-care consumers and know what to expect in terms of results.

By the way, I am a massage therapist who specializes in TMJ work, including intra-oral (inside the mouth) work, in which I’ve had advanced training from three teachers and experience since 2013. I admit, I am biased!

I want to say up front that most massage therapists do not work inside the mouth, which is where the jaw muscles most likely to be causing TMJ pain are located.

Most massage therapists do have the skills to release tension in the external jaw and neck muscles. Maybe that’s all you need, if your jaw pain is mild and intermittent. You will feel better after such sessions.

But if you are really suffering from long-term jaw pain and dysfunction, you definitely need more than that to get relief. You could greatly benefit from intra-oral work, which takes special training and experience to do effectively.

Do not hesitate to ask whether a therapist you are considering working with is trained in releasing tension in the internal jaw muscles.

Whole-body work can also help, when the TMJ pain is related to your posture (for instance, head forward posture) or to muscle tension due to stress.

Here’s a look at results you might expect from working with practitioners in different professions:

  • reducing stress (massage therapist, acupuncturist, yoga teacher, meditation teacher)
  • reducing tension in your external jaw muscles (massage therapist)
  • releasing trigger points in your external jaw muscles (massage therapist)
  • doing myofascial release on your external jaw muscles (massage therapist)
  • releasing neck tension (massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor)
  • getting your pelvis aligned and balanced (massage therapist, physical therapist, craniosacral therapist, chiropractor)
  • getting your head aligned on top of your spine (craniosacral therapist, chiropractor)
  • preventing your teeth from cracking due to grinding (dentist or over-the-counter night guard)
  • checking whether grinding in your sleep is related to airway obstruction (sleep specialist)
  • reducing tension in your internal jaw muscles (massage therapist with special training, physical therapist with special training, Rolfer as part of 10-series)
  • restoring alignment in the cranial bones (craniosacral therapist)
  • repairing or replacing a dysfunctional articular disk (oral surgeon)
  • getting whole-body therapy to help with alignment issues and release strain patterns (craniosacral therapist, Rolfer, Zero Balancer, yoga teacher, yoga therapist)

There is one major caveat here: these are generalities based on my own knowledge and experience. Each profession has its specialties. Not all physical therapists work on the jaw or pelvis — in fact, not many do.

Do not hesitate to ask questions and do your own research.

This is a brief and imperfect overview to help you get the results you want, and there are many fine points not mentioned here.


What to do if you have jaw issues? I offer a 30-minute in-person TMJ consultation to gather information and evaluate your issues. I also teach clenchers an alternative to clenching and provide known ways to stop grinding, from those who succeeded.

These habits are major contributors to TMJ issues, and you can change them.

If you’re not in Austin, I can do the above as well as help you learn what to ask about when seeking TMJ relief near you. Just let me know if you need a phone or Zoom consultation.

I offer a combination TMJ Consultation plus TMJ Relief session in person in Austin, Texas, and in Taos, NM, in sumemrs. The consultation serves as an intake, so I have a better idea of what your issues are and how we’ll measure progress. Your consultation is free when combined with your first TMJ Relief session. This is a two-hour session.

To be fair, when you’ve had TMJ issues for a long time, or they are acute, you may need multiple sessions to retrain your system to retain the ease and alignment, along with doing your homework to stop clenching or grinding your teeth.

I offer a package of four TMJ Relief sessions for 10 percent off single sessions, best done a week or two apart. These sessions are 90 minutes and integrate various bodywork modalities — including work in your mouth — so that you feel great when you get off the table. They are best done over 4 to 6 weeks.

If you’re really adventurous, you can schedule a 75-minute Self-Treatment for TMJ Issues session on Zoom where we’ll do an intake and I will teach you how to work on releasing the tension patterns that cause problems, including working in your own mouth. You’ll need clean hands and short nails. It’s really not that hard! Learn more about it here.