The lateral pterygoid is a muscle of your temporomandibular joint and can trigger pain in the area of the jaw and face if it carries trigger points.
Trigger points are small tensions or muscle nodules that can cause diverse pain and discomfort.
However, it’s possible to “eliminate” these tensions and trigger points with a self-massage.
On this page you will find instructions how to do this. You will also learn …
If the lateral pterygoid is tense, it may be sensitive to local pressure and lead to a feeling of tension in the jaw.
Trigger points in this muscle lead to the same problems, but can also trigger the following pains:
Besides pain, trigger points and tensions often lead to a a dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint.
The tensions can protrude the lower jaw, which then manifests in an uneven dental impression and/or a creaking in the jaw.
The lateral pterygoid has two muscle heads, a lower/inferior and an upper/superior one. Put simply, it runs from the temporomandibular joint to the temple.
Origin superior fibers
Insertion superior fibers
Origin inferior fibers
Insertion inferior fibers
Concerning the function of this muscle, we must distinguish between the two muscle heads.
Here we distinguish between an unilateral and bilateral contraction, depending on whether the muscle contracts on one or both sides of the jaw.
A one-sided contraction laterally shifts the lower jaw to the opposite/contralateral side.
This means, when it contracts on the left side, the jaw shifts to the right.
When the muscle contracts on both sides, it opens the jaw and moves it slightly forward (protrusion).
In this muscle, mainly satellite trigger points arise, activated by trigger points in other muscles, as well as due to active overload and external forces.
If you constantly stress the muscle, trigger points can be activated.
All activities that require a constantly opened or pushed forward/protruded jaw or chewing for long periods, can overload the muscle.
External forces or objects pressing sideways on your jaw can cause tensions and trigger points.
The stress can be short and high, or low but long.
Trigger points in the sternocleidomastoid might activate trigger points in the pterygoid, because it lies in its pain zone. This is referred to as satellite trigger points.
Therefore, I recommend also looking at this muscle if you have problems with the lateral pterygoid or if you suffer from jaw pain.
The lateral pterygoid can be difficult to feel, due to its “hidden” position behind the zygomatic arch.
Still, you should try to feel it. You may not be able find it right away, but that´s not a big deal.
Just take your time, and don’t mind if it doesn’t work out. Because for the massage it is not absolutely necessary that you can feel the muscle.
We divide the palpation into an intraoral (“through the mouth”) and an extraoral one.
The internal palpation allows to feel the anterior lower fibers of the muscle. Before you begin, wash your hands.
To feel the muscle, proceed as follows:
The extraoral palpation allows you to feel both the inferior and the superior fibers of the lateral pterygoid.
Place your index finger on the zygomatic arch. This is the horizontal bone that you can feel right next to your ear.
Place your index finger at the back of the zygomatic arch, just before your temporomandibular joint.
Use your fingers to massage this muscle. If you have long fingernails, I recommend cutting them. Otherwise the massage will be unpleasant, and you run the risk of breaking your nails.
As a massage technique, you can use “my” common techniques, namely the ischemic compression, precise massage strokes or the pressure-motion technique.
For the massage, proceed as follows: