Throughout my career, I have treated hundreds of patients with neck concerns, headaches, and jaw pain.
Of course, there are numerous reasons for these concerns, but it is very common for the jaw to play a key role in the proper structural function of the head and neck, as well as be responsible for many bite issues and jaw pain.
Dentists prescribe splints and braces to help relieve pressure from the jaw, head, and neck, but this can take many months, even years, to resolve.
The jaw is very unique. It is the only real moveable joint in the head and, thus, is the first joint to compensate for structural, muscular or postural imbalances, as well as pain and discomfort above and below the jaw.
One of my teachers taught me a very simple and amazingly effective technique to release the muscular tension in the TMJ that I have been using successfully in my practice since 1984.
In this article and video, I will describe this do-it-yourself TMJ treatment that has resolved countless TMJ-, neck-, and headache-related issues in my practice.
TMJD or temporomandibular joint disorders plague about 5 percent of the population, with many more experiencing undiagnosed jaw pain. (1) Associated neck pain, tension headaches, and even migraines can be secondary to TMJ concerns.
TMJD can be caused by numerous factors including muscular or emotional tension, bite issues, bruxism, teeth extractions, postural deviation, masticatory muscle dysfunction, and structure issues in the TMJ or jaw itself.
Commonly, a combination of psychological and postural imbalances contribute to a variety of head and neck concerns that may stem from the jaw (TMJ), bite, or muscular tension issues. (2)
Muscular tension is perhaps most commonly the culprit, as the chewing muscles—like the masseter muscle and pterygoid muscles—are considered some of the strongest in the body. If one of these muscles are over-strained, weak, or too tight, they can easily misalign the jaw. This can cause a cascade of musculoskeletal compensations resulting in a variety of head and neck related pain presentations.
The unbalanced function of these two major muscles responsible for chewing and jaw alignment can easily pull on and strain the jaw, teeth placement, muscles of the neck, and the subtle movement of the cranium that normally takes place during respiration.
Excessive muscular tension and strain in these muscles can cause a litany of head, neck, jaw, and dental bite issues that can be exacerbated (but not always caused by) bruxism or grinding the teeth at night.
Release the Tension
Releasing the tension in both the masseter and internal pterygoid muscles should be the first thing done to help resolve TMJ and related structural head and neck concerns.
The first technique I want to teach you is how to release the internal pterygoid muscle. This muscle is found on the inside of your mouth between your cheek and gum. Once this is released, the masseter muscle—which is the strongest in the body—can be released as well.
1. TMJ Internal Pterygoid Release Technique
As you can see in the diagram, the internal pterygoid muscles bridges the lower jaw with the inside of your cheekbone (maxilla). When this is tight, you can imagine how difficult it would be to open your mouth.
Relaxing it requires us to go inside the mouth to release it. Follow the steps below and watch the video to be more precise in your technique.
Wash your hands very well or use a finger cot or latex glove.
If you are treating the right side of the jaw, take your left index finger with the pad facing out (fingernail touching upper teeth) and slide your finger inside your mouth between your cheek and upper teeth.
Slide your finger all the way back until you feel a hard structure that may be blocking you from pushing your finger back any further. This is the internal pterygoid muscle. While it may feel like a bone, it is just a very tight pterygoid muscle that needs to be relaxed.
Gently but firmly try to slide your index finger behind the pterygoid muscle.
In other words, try to wedge your finger further back between your back upper teeth and the hard structure (pterygoid) that is not letting your finger go all the way back.
Once you have your finger wedged back behind the pterygoid muscle, use the pad of your left index finger to press out toward your cheek against the pterygoid muscle.
Initially, this may hurt a little. Only press outwards against the pterygoid muscle to your tolerance of pain or discomfort.
You can press outward against the pterygoid muscle and hold it with firm pressure, stretching and slowly relaxing the muscle. Combine pressing out firmly to stretch the muscle a couple of seconds at a time and holding it out with pressure for 30 seconds at a time.
You can also apply some downward pressure on this muscle in sort of a milking motion as you press it out and milk it down as you slide your finger down the muscle along its fibers. (See diagram above.)
One session should take about 2 minutes.
After this two-minute treatment, you should feel significant release and freedom of the jaw and more ease in chewing and biting if the problem is associated with muscular tension in the masticatory muscles.
If this technique releases some of the pain or tension, repeat the same technique on the other side.
Perform both sides (two minutes each) 3x/day for a week. You should feel significant changes in the freedom of the bite and related muscular tension if this is the cause of your TMJ concern.
2. Masseter Muscle Release Technique
As you can see, the masseter muscle is a massive muscle on the outside of the jaw just opposite the internal pterygoid muscle on the inside.
Follow the instructions below and watch the video to best understand how to properly perform the masseter muscle release technique.
This technique is a form of Active Release Technique, where you will actively move the jaw (open and close the mouth) while you pin the masseter muscle down when the jaw is in the closed position, and stretch in as you open the mouth.
Find the jaw joint (TMJ). It is the very moveable joint you can feel with your index finger as you open and close your mouth.
Close your mouth and relax your jaw. Using the index, middle, and ring fingers hook onto the masseter muscle just opposite your upper teeth just in front of the TMJ.
Slowly open your mouth while you pin or hold the masseter muscle in place. You will feel the masseter muscle sliding under your finder as you open your mouth.
This technique is actually stripping the masseter muscle and boosting its natural blood flow. The more blood flow we can provide to a muscle, the better it functions, and the more relaxed they stay.
Be sure to watch the video above to best understand the pterygoid and masseter TMJ Release Technique.
Do this technique right after you perform the internal pterygoid muscle release technique.