The Masseter is the strongest muscle in the human body per square inch. No, it’s not a big, bulky, sexy shoulder or chest muscle. It’s actually the muscle that you use when you’re eating tacos! (Or talking, or yawning, or chewing on anything, really).
It’s the smaller, square-shaped muscle that holds your jaw to the rest of your head and opens and closes your mouth. Because it’s constantly at work with its big, important job, it is the strongest muscle per its size in the human body.
Working simultaneously with the other jaw-moving muscles, it has the potential to chomp your chompers with a force of up to 200 lbs on the molars and 55 lbs on the incisors! Not that your dentist would recommend that. (No, Dr. Jeff, I didn’t test this one myself…)
When this muscle is angry, it contributes to something we pain-relieving practitioners call “Orofacial pain,” meaning pain in your face. It’s a common problem, affecting as many as a quarter of Americans.
Orofacial pain is processed differently by the nervous system than pain in the rest of your body. Simply put, pain in your lower back has to travel through the spinal cord and dorsal horn before it reaches your brain, causing a sort of filtering effect. Pain in your face goes right into the brain stem (via the trigeminal nerve) with no filtering at all. Therefore, a literal pain in your face is also metaphorically in your face.
People who suffer from temporomandibular joint dysfunction (or TMJD) know this all too well. This is when the sliding hinge that is your jaw joint doesn’t function properly. Some people even experience their jaws getting locked open or locked shut. As you can imagine, it wreaks havoc on your facial muscles, including the Masseter and the Temporalis, as well.
If you have serious TMJ Dysfunction, definitely seek out some sort of professional treatment (see my legal disclaimer page at the way bottom of this page).
Massage can really help reduce this orofacial pain. But if you’re feeling sore in the jaw, say after a really big meal or a hot dog eating contest, try this easy Masseter self-massage technique:
Photos by my reluctant husband who wants you to know that he is not a photographer. Also modeling, my enthusiastic GSP and helpful assistant, Rufus.
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