Relaxing Exercises for the Lateral Pterygoid

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The lateral pterygoids are muscles on each side of your head that help control the temporo-mandibular joint, or TMJ. The muscles help to open your jaw and to move it from side to side. Relaxing or exercising the lateral pterygoids may help treat a variety of TMJ ailments. The joint is very complex, however, so see a specialist if you experience TMJ difficulties.


The pterygoid muscles are deep in your jaw and aren’t easy to reach. Wash your hands, then, with your palm facing away from your body, insert your index finger into your mouth between your upper teeth and cheek. You’ll reach a crevice where the jawbone meets the roof of your mouth. Press your finger lightly against the area, moving from the joint area upward and toward the front of your mouth. Move your jaw slowly while you massage the muscles.

Mobility Exercises

You can try a variety of mobility exercises to relax your pterygoid muscles and the TMJ area in general. Several exercises are, in effect, dynamic stretches. For example, perform a simple opening and stretch exercise by opening your mouth slowly, as widely as you can without experiencing any pain. Target your lateral pterygoids more directly by opening your mouth about 1 inch wide, then moving your jaw from side to side as far as you can, provided you remain pain-free. Don’t open your jaw wider as you move laterally; maintain the 1-inch gap. Try to perform 10 repetitions of both exercises.

Correcting Muscle Imbalances

Patients with TMJ problems may suffer from a muscle imbalance between the lateral pterygoids and the suprahyoids along your lower jaw. To help correct the imbalance, perform a two-part exercise as often as possible throughout the day. Position your tongue as far back along the roof of your mouth as possible. Open and close your mouth, slowly and steadily, for several repetitions. If you can perform the exercise pain-free, advance to the second step by holding your chin with one hand, then making a fist with your opposite hand and placing it below the jaw line. Repeat the exercise against the resistance from your hands.

Head Resistance Exercises

If you have access to a chair with a headrest you can use it as resistance for another two-part exercise. Place the back of your head against the headrest and close your mouth, but don’t clinch your teeth tightly. Place your palm against your jaw so the loose skin between your thumb and index finger presses on the front of your chin. Use your jaw muscles to push your head backward into the headrest, but hold your lower jaw in place with the hand on your chin, which should cause your mouth to open just a bit. Lower your head back to the starting position. Perform five repetitions, a few times each day. If you can do the exercise pain-free for at least two days, make the exercise more vigorous by pushing your lower jaw forward against your hand while your head presses against the chair. Maintain your position for a few seconds.