You have eight jaw muscles: two pairs of large ones on the outside of your head (the masseters and temporalises) and four small ones inside your mouth (two medial pterygoids and two lateral pterygoids).
Any of them can get trigger points.
What is a trigger point? It’s unhealthy muscle tissue that causes pain.
Healthy muscle tissue is made of bundles of fibers that run in the same direction. This tissue is pliable. It stretches or contracts when you move.
A trigger point is a spot where the muscle tissue has lost its pliability. A massage therapist may feel that the fibers in a particular spot feel hard, creating a small nodule. The tissue feels dense and often rolls under the fingers, 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 usually feel tender when you apply pressure to them, and they often refer pain elsewhere.
Where several of them occur in an area, they form “constellations.” If one of those trigger points in the constellation is primary and the rest are satellites, it usually 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 someone else 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.
My 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.
When I am working on TMJ issues, I notice that many 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 pressure, drag your fingers slowly down the masseter muscle on one side 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.
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 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 works intra-orally, as do I, but her experience is greater than mine, and she’s amazing at discovering patterns if you have “constellations” of trigger points. She’s going to be more efficient than I can possibly be. She’s the queen!
If you are interested in having her work on you, her name is Rose of Sharon, and 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.