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- Ella Jolly, Social Worker
New York City

Muscle Monday: Muscles of Mastication

Welcome back for another edition of ‪Muscle Monday‬!

Today’s special guests are the Muscles of Mastication (aka chewing). Beyond chewing, they also assist us in speaking (kinda important) as well enable jaw clenching and teeth grinding; two very common and troublesome problems that can contribute to neck tension, headaches, dental issues, etc.

Muscles Used for Chewing

Three muscles comprise this powerful group, and they are the Temporalis, Masseters, and Pterygoids. Based on its weight vs. amount of force it can produce, the Masseter is the strongest muscle in your body!

The tiny Pterygoid muscles are tricky to palpate, but you can easily find your Masseters by clenching your jaw; they’re the muscles that pop out. The Temporalis is roughly what most refer to as the temples.

Like past Muscle Monday guests (Levator Scapula, Pec Minor), the mastication muscles are great compensators (especially the Masseters). They will very often kick in when other muscles are under-active, leading to muscular imbalance and possibly discomfort.

One of the great things about these muscles is how easy they are to massage and release yourself. One of my favorite ways to release my jaw is to open my mouth as wide as possible and stick my tongue way out while exhaling (aka Lion Pose in yoga). Another way is to flutter your lips, and my favorite goofy exercise is to stick your tongue down in between your lower lip and lower teeth. This stretches the muscles in a way they’re unaccustomed to and breaks up the stress and sense of importance and seriousness we tend to hold in our jaws.

From an Ortho-Bionomy perspective, if you’re a habitual jaw clencher, it might feel good to actually exaggerate that by holding your own jaw shut for 30sec, and then slowly release. One way to do this is simply to prop your jaw up with your thumbs, giving the full weight of your jaw/head over to your thumbs. It might take a little tweaking to find the best positioning for both head and hands, but don’t give up. It can feel so good to give over the weight of your head for a minute in this way.

Your Gentle Nudge is to try one of these jaw releases now. It’ll take hardly any time and you might be surprised at what a difference a regular jaw release practice makes for your overall well-being. Let me know if you have any questions or jaw insights below!

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