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 releasing tension in 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 not directly accessible on everyone, being overlaid by the temporalis tendon and the medial pterygoid.

You can get close enough to make a difference, however.

I learned a lot from Gil Hedley’s dissection videos, Muscles of Mastication.

In my opinion, the lateral pterygoids 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.

When this disc does not move smoothly with the bone when the jaw opens and closes, clicking, popping, and sometimes a crunching noise can occur.

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 and can also be sensitive.

It helps to have tiny pinky fingers, and even then sometimes I need to ask a client to shift their jaw to one side so I can reach one.

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

Most of my TMJ clients are not aware when they come in that there are even jaw muscles here! The masseters usually get all the glory, and I’m touching a place that never gets touched. No wonder this area can be sensitive.

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

Once I get there, I don’t need to stay long to make a difference. I invite my TMJ clients to move their jaws after I work on each muscle. More often than not, releasing tension in this muscle creates a sense of spaciousness around the joint.

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, or come see me if you can.

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