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Buccinator – Pain & Trigger Points

The buccinator is an important muscle of your oral cavity. It is located between your masseter and the corner of your mouth.

In case of tensions or the presence of trigger points, it can cause pain in the cheek and jaw.

On this page, you will learn, among other facts, how these tensions come about and how you can relieve them with a self-massage.

1. Pain Patterns, Symptoms & Differential Diagnoses

1.1 Pain patterns

Tensions and trigger points in the buccinator can cause local pain in the cheek.

These are often perceived as deep-seated pain in the cheek and jaw.

1.2 Symptoms & ailments

In addition to pain, the following ailments might appear:

  • “Difficulties” when swallowing
  • Pain when chewing
  • Pain when whistling
  • Pain when playing a wind instrument

1.3 Differential diagnoses

With the following differential diagnoses, you should bear in mind that these and trigger points are not mutually exclusive. That means they can coexist.

A dental abscess can manifest through pain which is very similar to the pain caused by tensions in the buccinator.

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction/TMD often shows similar symptoms to those caused by trigger points in this muscle.

If pain occurs in the jaw, it is often misinterpreted as TMD. It is therefore important to consider trigger points.

But as mentioned before, a TMD and trigger points are NOT mutually exclusive, and can also influence each other.

TMD can lead to trigger points in the buccinator or masseter, due to the pain it causes.

Trigger points in these muscles can also result in TMD in the long term, as muscle function is disturbed, and muscle tension is altered.

This is often reflected in an articular dysfunction – a disorder concerning the function of a joint, in this case the temporomandibular joint.

2. Attachment Points

In simple terms, the muscle stretches from your jaw to the corner of your mouth.

Origin

  • Maxilla & mandible

Insertion

  • Corner of the mouth

The muscle is innervated by the nervus facialis.

3. Function

When the buccinator contracts, it reduces the space in the oral cavity.

It also supports the retraction of the corners of the mouth.

Thus, it contributes in the following activities:

  • Chewing
  • Swallowing
  • Facial expressions
  • Whisteling
  • Playing wind instruments
  • Shifting food back and forth in the oral cavity

4. Buccinator – Trigger Point Acitvation

This muscle is above all overloaded if you constantly pull faces or exaggerate when practicing wind instruments.

5. Palpation

To palpate the muscle, proceed as follows:

  • Grasp the cheek with your thumb and index finger. One finger inside the mouth, one finger outside on the surface of the cheek.
  • Place your fingers just behind the corner of your mouth.
  • Press your thumb and index finger against each other and palpate the tissue there – this is your buccinator.
  • Feel its course backwards in the direction of the jaw.

Note: Further “back”, towards the jaw, you will encounter a much thicker and clearly defined muscle which runs vertically from your upper jaw to your lower jaw.

This is no longer the buccinator, but your masseter.

6. Self-massage of the Buccinator

The best way to massage this muscle is with the thumb and index finger. As a massage technique, I recommend the precise rolling movements.

  • Grasp the muscle as described above with thumb and index finger.
  • Press both fingers against each other.
  • Roll the muscle back and forth between your fingers and seek for tensions.
  • Once you find a painful tension, roll it back and forth between your fingers a few times.

References

  • Calais-German, Blandine. Anatomy of Movement. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993. Print
  • Davies, Clair, and Davies, Amber. The Trigger Point Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide For Pain Relief. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., Print
  • Simons, David G., Lois S. Simons, and Janet G. Travell. Travell & Simons’ Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1999. Print.
  • Schünke, Michael., Schulte, Erik, and Schumacher, Udo. Prometheus: Lernatlas der Anatomie. Stuttgart/New York: Georg Thieme Verlag, 2007. Print