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  • Writer's pictureNashville PT

Muscle Monday: Masseter (TMJ)

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

The masseter is a muscle to certainly get cheeky about. It’s the bigger muscle found on the outside of your jaw that you can feel get tight and bulge out when you clench your teeth shut. It’s responsible for closing your jaw along with the temporalis and medial pterygoid muscles and is one of the main muscles for mastication (chewing). The masseter is very closely related to functions and problems with the TMJ, or temporomandibular joint (your jaw hinge).

A lot of people who are stressed and/or grind their teeth at night will feel their masseter get sore and tight. Over a long period of time, clenching or grinding can cause pain and dysfunction with the muscles of mastication and the TMJ itself. Pathologies caused by masseter dysfunction include headaches, jaw pain, muscle pain, TMJ osteoarthritis, TMJ disk dislocation (you can hear your jaw click), and plenty of pain with movement like talking and eating.

Who can be at risk for issues related to the masseter?

Really anyone since we all use our masseter so much throughout each and every day. It can especially affect those who are stressed, sustained an injury to the jaw, or even chew gum frequently. An overworked masseter can lead to muscle spasms, tightness, and can even lead to the development of trigger points. When a muscle around a joint is out of balance with the surrounding muscles, it can increase your risk of developing long-term wear and damage to the joint and the many muscles and soft tissues in the nearby area.

To identify the true cause of your jaw pain or TMJ issue, you really need a full assessment of all of the muscles that move your jaw and the temporomandibular joint itself. And since cervical spine dysfunction and TMJ dysfunction tend to go hand-in-hand, you need to be sure that your neck is being assessed so you can have the best possible outcomes.

At Nashville Physical Therapy & Performance, our physical therapist, Gina Stefanov does a lot of work with patients who have TMJ disorders. She will do a thorough assessment to identify any weak muscles, tight muscles, joint restrictions and movement pattern issues and then provide the specific exercises needed to address the true cause of your pain/decreased function. There are a lot of options for treating TMJ disorders, including expensive interventions like Botox injections, custom fitted mouth pieces and even surgery. We highly recommend that you try conservative intervention in the form of physical therapy (by a TMJ PT) before you jump into any of those expensive and invasive options. Worst case scenario, it will help improve your overall outcomes even if something more invasive may be necessary in the future.

Other facts about the masseter:

· The masseter is also known as the bulldog muscle because bulldogs have such a well-developed masseter themselves, giving them their classic wide and cute cheeks.

· The masseter is supplied by the mandibular nerve, the third main branch of the trigeminal nerve.

· The masseter attaches from the zygomatic bone of the skull to the lower back portion of the jawbone.

· When both your left and right masseter work together, they help to clench your teeth and can also do protrusion, which is the motion that helps you stick your lower jaw

out as if you’re doing your best bulldog impression.

· Having a well-developed masseter can give your jaw a more defined jawline. A masseter that is big and strong can add definition to your face and further pronounce your cheek dimples, adding to a more characteristic smile!

If you feel you've been having trouble with your TMJ or masseter and want Gina or Amy (our TMJ experts) to take a look, we'd love to help you! You can reach us by call/text 615-428-9213 or email to set up an appointment with a PT today! You can also book online here

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