Acupressure for Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction and Headaches

The Link Between Headaches and Temporomandibular Dysfunction

You may have heard of how acupuncture or acupressure can treat headaches. However, you may not have known acupressure points can also be used to treat your temporomandibular condition. Did you know that there some of the acupressure points that can treat both your headache and jaw pain are one and the same?

Indeed, your headaches may be driven by your temporomandibular joint problems. Jaw pain flare ups generate your headaches. If you treat your jaw problem successfully, you may get headache reduction as a bonus!

How Can Acupressure Points Help My Temporomandibular Dysfunction?

The acupressure points can help your jaw symptoms improve rapidly. If acupressure is a fit for you, in less than one minute you will open your mouth further with less pain. Chewing becomes easier with less pain and clicking. Yawning creates less clicking and pain.

Apply pressure for 15-60 seconds to the specific acupoints discussed below. Use moderate pressure rather than hard pressure or soft touch. Proper pressure produces discomfort akin to massaging a tight calf or hamstring muscle.

When Does Acupressure Not Work for My Temporomandibular Problems?

I find acupressure works very efficiently for many of my temporomandibular and headache clients. However, if you have loud popping when you open your mouth, acupressure is not likely to help.

Other physical therapy techniques will be more helpful to you. These techniques involve your therapist assessing muscles and structures inside your mouth. I observe that if you have inflammation in the muscles inside the mouth, and ice popsicle may help decrease the internal muscle tenderness.

Which Acupressure Points Help My Jaw and Headache Condition?

These points are in the side of your neck, your shoulder girdle, and your jaw.  They are within various muscles. These points may be very tender. Compare the tender point on one side of your neck, temple, or jaw to the corresponding point on your other side.

You will find a much higher likelihood of benefit when the tenderness levels are different. The tender point frequently will connect to your problem.

I find it helpful to first apply pressure to the points in the shoulder and neck first before going to the points in the temple and side of the face. Why? I could treat the points closer in to your temporomandibular joint first and get relief. However, I would not know if the shoulder and neck points would have helped your condition.

These active neck and jaw points would lie in wait, ready to fire up your jaw symptoms again. If you can either determine that the more distant points help or do not help you can then move to the points with a more direct anatomical connection to your jaw.

How Do I Know if The Acupoints are Likely to Help Me?

Turn your neck to the right and left while seated. Your physical therapist stands behind you and measures your neck rotation.

If your neck rotation is less than normal, I find you have a higher likelihood that the points will help your jaw. Why? Tight muscles in the upper trapezius and the sternocleidomastoid muscles will restrict your neck turning. You will find key acupressure points housed in these muscles that help jaw and headache symptoms.

If your turn your neck fully and easily, these muscles are less likely to be tight and tender. Consequently, you will likely find less tenderness in the relevant acupoints. The external facial and neck muscles will not be enough to resolve your problem. In that case, your physical therapist then focuses on structures inside your mouth to help you.

The Upper Trapezius Muscle Point – Gall Bladder 21

The name denotes a point on the gall bladder meridian that courses up and down the body. Whether you have a gall bladder problem or not is beyond the ability of this blog to determine.

However, the point is located on the upper trapezius along the shoulder girdle. Apply pressure here and you may find pressure melting around your jaw and you can open it further. While helpful to some people, your chances for success are much higher with this next point.

The Sternocleidomastoid Muscle – Triple Heater 16

Find this point in the back border area of the upper third of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. It is roughly equal with the level of the bottom of your earlobe. Do not massage this point if you have any adverse symptoms such as dizziness or nausea or excessive pain.

Do not worry if you are not sure if you are on the exact point. Use either your opposite or same hand to do a circular massage and you will find this tender point. I find that you get results even if you stray on and off the point as you occasionally go across it. Turn your neck slightly away from the point so that your hand avoids the front of your neck. Your neck turn makes it easier to find the tender area in the sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Your clenched masseter muscle may relax with pressure to your sternocleidomastoid muscle. When tight, the masseter muscle makes it difficult to open your mouth without pain. Massage your sternocleidomastoid, and you provide one avenue to release it.

The sternocleidomastoid points are some of my favorites because they produce rapid results in both jaw pain and headache reduction. Your jaw opens further, and you have much less pain when you chew. Some of my clients have pain when they eat a bagel. The jaw pain goes away immediately when they press these sternocleidomastoid points. Remove the pressure and the pain immediately comes back. Press again and the mouth opening and chewing pain goes away.

Keep massaging the sternocleidomastoid muscle, usually one to three times a day for 20-60 seconds. Over a few weeks the sternocleidomastoid tenderness fades and the jaw opens easier. Headaches get better, too.

The Temporalis Muscle – Numerous Acupressure points

The temporalis muscle attaches directly inside your jaw. It is a major jaw pain and headache producer. Do not make any effort to identify specific acupoints in the temporalis. They will identify themselves to you as you apply pressure along the temporalis muscle.

The temporalis muscle clenches the jaw. Consequently, any spasm within the muscle can limit your ability to open your mouth. Clench your jaw and you may feel where the most pertinent bands within the muscle are. Massage them out, and you may find an immediate increase in your jaw opening.

Overly tight bands within the temporalis muscle pull and cause increased clicking as they pull the lower jaw up against the skill. If you release the temporalis, you can see the clicking and grinding sensation fade away, even if present for months or years!

The temporalis is a large, flat muscle, and you may easily miss part of it. Pressure in the back part of the muscle by your ear, and you may note a decreased level of grinding and clicking. Clients express great surprise when pressure above their ear softens jaw clicking and grinding.

Again, use moderate pressure. Avoid any adverse symptoms. Temporal arteritis is a rare possibility as the artery courses along the side of the head. Any visual disturbances cue you to stop any massage to this area and consult your doctor.

The Masseter Muscle – Numerous Acupressure points

The masseter muscle along the side of the jaw produces no major headaches, unlike the other three muscles mentioned. However, this major clenching muscle creates jaw pain with opening and closing, along with grinding and popping.

Do not worry about finding the proper acupressure points within this muscle. Your target is the tight bands within this muscle, wherever they can be found.

I save evaluation of this major troublemaker for last. Why? Because I know it affects just about everybody’s jaw problems. Therefore, check it after the other muscles have been cleared.

You treat these unwelcome, tight bands differently than the other muscles. Massage the tight bands in the masseter while the jaw is opening. I find this method to be quite effective to release the tight and tender masseter.

How Do I Massage These Taut Bands in My Masseter Muscle?

Decide which of two methods works best for you. Try this one. Start with your fingers on the top of your head and slide your fingers and palms down the side of your face. It is as if someone cracked an egg on the top of your head and the contents now slide down the sides of your face.

Imagine “The Scream” painting by Edvard Munch. Your hands and jaw should look something like that painting as your hands and jaw move together as a unit. Do not close your mouth again until your hands slide off your jaw. Keep the jaw relaxed and let it sag like a Basset hound.

This motion relaxes the masseter muscle, and your mouth opens further as you give your jaw gentle but firm pressure. No pain results if you are doing this properly. If pain or clicking are present, shift the amount of your pressure or location your hands are in as they slide down the face.

Use a second method if your goal is to minimize the clicking in your temporomandibular joint. You may not need to open your mouth further.

Oftentimes, the masseter tightness throws off the jaw mechanics just enough to cause clicking. As you open your mouth, your physical therapist can help you find which bands within the masseter are contributing to your clicking.

Use your index and middle fingers to go over these bands. Do not start at the forehead when you do this modified two finger “Scream” exercise. Start at the area where you feel an elevated line of bone protrude from your face. The masseter attaches to this bone. Start your masseter massage there.

Your Final Result

Check with your physical therapist to release the acupressure points in the upper trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, temporalis, and masseter muscles. Relax these muscles and reward yourself with a more pleasant jaw and headache pain-free eating experience!



You understand that if not done properly, some techniques and exercises described in this blog could harm you. Any activities you perform are at your own risk, and you expressly agree to waive any claims against the author for any harm that may arise from your own actions. By reading this blog and conducting these exercises, you accept this risk. This blog provides content related to physical and/or mental health issues. As such, your use of techniques described acts as your acceptance of this disclaimer.

-Consult Chapter 2 in my book, “Calming the Headache Storm” to make sure the headache is not the sign of a more serious problem. The techniques, advice and strategies contained in this blog may not be suitable for every individual and should be abandoned if your headache increases. Seek the advice of your physician.



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