Muscle of the Month

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Muscle of the Month! By: Dr. Casey Swann


This is the month of February, and man, is it cold! Shivering always makes my jaw tight, and I’ve noticed I’m not the only one. Let’s talk about my favorite jaw muscle – temporalis (see picture 1).

As you may have guessed, temporalis is named for its place along the side of the head at the temples or temporal bone of the skull. The muscle begins stretched out like a fan around the ear and tapers down to the inside of the jaw right under the cheekbone (or zygomatic arch). The temporalis closes the mouth by bringing the jaw up and back. It is one of the four muscles that allow us to chew. If you lightly place your fingers at your temples and clench your jaw, you will feel the temporalis moving.

The temporalis can become over-used in cases of grinding at night, high stress lifestyles, recent dental work, and chewing too much gum. A tight temporalis can lead to headaches around the temples, popping in the jaw joint, chronic TMJ pain, and facial pain. Trigger points in the temporalis can cause pain in several locations including above the eyebrow, just above the upper teeth, and throughout the cheek (see picture 2).


Stretching the outer temporalis is relatively simple. Close the jaw and place your fingers alongside your head, pointing towards the sky. Place your fingers on your head with some pressure, not inwards, but upwards. Open the jaw slowly. Repeat in any areas of tightness all along the muscle.

It is also possible to stretch the muscle from inside the jaw, however, the angle of one’s own hand makes this very difficult. You may require an experienced hand to do this. Active Release Technique is extremely effective on temporalis muscle tightness. See your local provider.

Other things you can do include simply lying on your back and letting your jaw hang open slowly. Close, and repeat. Rubbing the temples will also help with trigger points. If you chew gum or tend to eat lots of raw, crunchy foods, give your jaw a break and eat softer things. If grinding at night is your major issue, getting a night guard will save your teeth while you work on relieving jaw tension.

Be sure to visit Performance Sports and Wellness for a full evaluation on your jaw and to ask any questions you may have.

Don’t have any jaw pain or headaches to complain of? Great! Send this article to someone you know who does.

Picture 1: Grays Anatomy

Picture 2: Simons, D., Travell, J., Simons, L., 1999. Travell & Simons’ Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, Vol. 1, second ed. Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore.