The masseter muscle in your jaw is not only the strongest muscle in the human body, but also the one responsible for chewing and unfortunately, a location of many trigger points. What are trigger points? A trigger point, or myofascial trigger point, is a small area of contracted and micro cramped muscle. Since the muscle is tightly contracted, it can cut off or lessen blood supply to the area which increases further irritation and discomfort.
If the masseter muscle is knotted, it can lead to many uncomfortable issues, yet is oftentimes overlooked. Why is massaging the masseter muscle important? Discomfort in the masseter muscle can lead to: tension headaches, earaches, toothaches, dizziness, tinnitus, teeth grinding, and temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ).
The temporomandibular joint is one that connects your jaw bone to the skull, or the mandible to the temporal bone. If you’re feeling pain in your TMJ, you might experience a lack of mobility in the joint and pain in the surrounding muscles. In the United States, studies suggest over 10 million people experience TMJ syndrome each year. Up to 15 percent of adults between the ages of 20-40 years experienced this syndrome. What does this pain feel like?
Temporomandibular joint syndrome has no defined cause, but we do know that individuals who experience discomfort and lack of mobility in their jaw are often experiencing TMJ syndrome. The severity can range from mild discomfort to serious pain that interferes with sleeping and eating.
If you are experiencing pain in your TMJ, common symptoms include: jaw pain, aching around or inside of the ear, painful chewing, clicking jaw while chewing, lockjaw feeling, sensitive teeth, headache, or neck ache.
Thankfully, yes! There are a couple of things that you can do to relieve some of the TMJ pain or symptoms that you're experiencing.
You can actually gently massage your temporomandibular joint easily as long as you can find the correct spot. If you are looking to massage this area yourself, you must find the masseter muscle which is located on the underside of the cheekbone. The small area you will want to focus on is around one inch in front of your ears. If you open and close your mouth while trying to find the area, it will feel like a notch in the cheekbone. In this notch, firmly place your thumb inside and move inwards and then upwards. This motion will create a gentle massage that has brought pain relief to many patients. You can also use a knuckle for extra added pressure to relieve pain as well as massaging in small circles. If you decide to use your knuckle, be careful with the amount of pressure you provide as you don't want to exacerbate the pain you're feeling.
The next thing that you can do to reduce TMJ pain at home is to try and reduce some of the stress that you're feeling. Often times we can make underlying issues or conditions worse by compounding them with stress and outside factors. Try to take several deep breaths throughout the day and avoid stressful scenarios that might contribute to feeling more TMJ pain. Stress can cause you to stress your muscles without realizing it and make your TMJ symptoms worse because you don't realize that you're doing it.
Certain foods and activities might make your TMJ symptoms worse, so try and avoid eating some of those hard to eat or hard to chew foods that put a burden on your jaw. In addition, try to relax the muscles around your jaw by keeping your jaw in a resting position. To keep your jaw in a resting position and give it ample time to heal, you want to avoid overdoing certain activities like yawning, singing, chewing, yelling, or clenching your teeth for extended periods of time. In addition, you should try using a hot or cold compress to relax some of the muscles around your jaw.
We know that many trouble areas in the body are anatomically connected, which is why pain in your masseter muscle can also create headaches. When you’re feeling discomfort in due to your TMJ, don’t forget that your jaw is closely related to your neck and shoulders so these parts could use some tension release as well!
If you’re looking for alleviate pain in your TMJ, trigger point dry needling can provide tremendous pain relief to patients. In fact, around 85 percent of pain-related visits to primary care doctors are due to trigger points throughout the body. With this being said, it’s important to pay attention to these hyper-irritable spots in the skeletal muscle fibers because without intervention, these trigger points can wreak havoc on other areas in the body.
The term is ‘dry' needling because there is no liquid or medication that is being injected into the patient during this treatment. Dry needling can target the specific jaw muscles that are contracting and causing pain or jaw misalignment and release the muscle spasm. Once the thin sterile needle is inserted into the skin, it will stimulate the myofascial trigger point, release the contracted muscle spasm and allow the muscle to return to a comfortable state.
At Results Physiotherapy, we value a hands-on manual therapy approach with our clients. This approach allows us to access the areas within the body that are posing issues and get our hands on the exact trigger points to provide relief. During a manual therapy treatment, an expert physician will use their hands to create passive movements in the soft tissue and joints to increase mobility and decrease pain. Our approach has been proven to help many clients relieve pain, reduce inflammation and soft tissue swelling. In addition to manual therapy, we also provide trigger point dry needling which is targeting the small muscle knot directly to relieve spasms and nudges the muscles back to a resting state.
If you are in pain, please don’t hesitate to make an appointment with one of our friendly physical therapists today!