Marta Miernik1, A–D , Mieszko Więckiewicz2, B, Anna Paradowska3, B,
Włodzimierz Więckiewicz1, E, F
Massage Therapy in Myofascial TMD Pain Management*
Masaż w terapii bólu mięśniowo-powięziowego w zaburzeniach
czynnościowych układu stomatognatycznego
1 Department of Prosthetic Dentistry, Wroclaw Medical University, Poland
2 Division of Dental Materials, Wroclaw Medical University, Poland
3 Division of Dentofacial Anomalies, Wroclaw Medical University, Poland
A – research concept and design; B – collection and/or assembly of data; C – data analysis and interpretation;
D – writing the article; E – critical revision of the article; F – final approval of article; G – other
Myofascial pain located in the area of the head is a very common disease of the stomatognathic system. The fact
that the mechanism of its development is very complex may cause a variety of problems in diagnosis and therapy.
Patients diagnosed with this type of affliction usually need a variety of different therapies. Massage therapy can
be a significant method of treatment of myofascial pain. That kind of therapy is clinically useful as it improves
the subjective and objective health status of the patient and is easy to follow. The aim of this paper is to show the
physiological effect and different massage techniques applied in myofascial pain treatment. The authors would also
like to present the protocol for dealing with patients who demand that kind of therapy for masseter and temporal
muscles (Adv Clin Exp Med 2012, 21, 5, 681–685).
Key words: massage therapy, myofascial pain, temporomandibular disorders.
Ból mięśniowo-powięziowy umiejscowiony w okolicy głowy jest często występującą jednostką chorobową układu
stomatognatycznego. Ze względu na jego złożony mechanizm powstawania stwarza wiele trudności diagnostycz-
nych i terapeutycznych. Pacjenci, u których rozpozna się tego typu schorzenie często wymagają terapii wielospe-
cjalistycznej. Jedną ze stosowanych metod leczenia bólu mięśniowo-powięziowego jest masaż. Terapia ta popra-
wia subiektywny i obiektywny stan zdrowia pacjenta. Celem pracy jest przedstawienie fizjologicznego efektu oraz
technik masażu stosowanych w leczeniu bólu mięśniowo-powięziowego. Autorzy chcieliby również zaprezentować
protokół postępowania w przypadku pacjentów wymagających tego rodzaju terapii dla mięśni żwaczy oraz skro-
niowych (Adv Clin Exp Med 2012, 21, 5, 681–685).
Słowa kluczowe: masaż, ból mięśniowo-powięziowy, zaburzenia czynnościowe układu stomatognatycznego.
Adv Clin Exp Med 2012, 21, 5, 681–685
© Copyright by Wroclaw Medical University
Myofascial pain (MFP) is a noninflammatory
illness of the muscular system. It is a disease of
muscles that produces local and referred pain. The
pain is usually associated with fatigue of the affect-
ed muscles and with their stiffness as well as with
tension. So-called trigger-points (muscle knots)
are very characteristic for this kind of disease and
they appear in taut bands of muscle fibres. They are
very sensitive even to gentle pressure (palpation)
[1–3]. Myofascial Pain is classified as a dysfunc-
tion of the stomatognathic system, group I Axis
I, according to research Diagnostic Criteria for
Temporomandibular Disorders. Myofascial pain
has multifactorial etiology. There are many factors
*Study was supported by research fellowship within “Development program of Wroclaw Medical University”
funded from European Social Fund, Human Capital, National Cohesion Strategy” (contract no. UDA-
M. Miernik et al.
that may cause this kind of disease, for example:
injuries (including micro-injuries associated with
repetitive or occupational muscles injuries, exces-
sive strain), poor posture as well as degenerative
factors . Myofascial pain symptoms in mastica-
tory organ are basically associated with parafunc-
tions such as teeth clenching, teeth grinding and
with emotional states such as stress [4, 5]. research
shows that parfunctional actions during the day as
well as sleep bruxism or nocturnal bruxism are
characterized by the intensification of muscle ten-
sion and bound to Myofascial Pain [6–8]. There
is a gender predominance in myofascial pain with
women affected more often than men .
Dysfunctions of the stomatognathic system
associated with muscles affects 31% of the inhab-
itants in Asia  and even 76% among Swedish
and Americans . In both cases the percentage
of patients with masticatory organ disease associ-
ated with muscles disorders was much higher than
among patients classified to groups II and III Axis
I, according to research Diagnostic Criteria for
Temporomandibular Disorders (rDC/TMD). In
this case, therapy itself seems to be the most im-
portant aspect of all due to the simple fact that the
disease is very common.
There are a few methods of therapy for pa-
tients affected by myofascial pain syndrome, for
example: splint therapy  pharmacotherapy [13,
14] and physical therapy [15, 16]. One of the most
common methods of physical therapy is massage
, manual therapy oriented to improve the pa-
tient’s comfort and health (according to American
Massage Therapy Association).
Massage as a Part of
Treatment in Myofascial
Pain of the Face
The main goal of treatment is to reduce pain
as well as to re-establish the proper length and
flexibility of muscles. In this case few basic forms
of manual therapy may be used: effleurage, knead-
ing, friction and petrissage .
Effleurage is a massage based on soothing,
stroking movements used at the beginning or at
the end of a therapeutic session. It warms up the
muscles and helps to make both blood and lymph
flow better. Kneading is a massage technique by
which the skin and its underlying tissues are moved
in a circular, rotating motion. It is used to increase
the blood level in particular parts of the body .
It is very important to remember that the power
and pressure we use during the massage should be
moderate – too strong may increase muscle ten-
sion . Therapeutic effects of that kind of mas-
sage are connected to many factors, such as local
blood and lymph flow, muscles activity and the
nervous system. The most important thing during
manual therapy is that the blood flow increases in
small vessels due to the fact that muscle tension de-
creases and that leads to better and faster recovery
around the muscle tissue and improves the range
of motion [19, 20]. Massage lessens post-exertion-
al sensitivity as well as reducing tissue swelling [20,
21]. Moreover, massage has pain-reducing prop-
erties. Short-term analgesic effect is caused by the
activation of a pain-gate mechanism that disables
pain signals travelling to central nervous system
through larger and faster conductive nerve fibres
that were activated. Descending pain suppression
mechanism makes it possible to achieve long-term
analgesic effects by releasing endogenous opiates
. Moreover, massage produces good psycho-
logical effects, reduces stress and anxiety and im-
proves the patient’s mood [21, 22].
Manual therapy is an effective form of treat-
ment in the case of myofascial pain syndrome
around muscles of stomatognathic system .
Massage reduces tension headaches , pain of
masseter muscles and temporal muscles  and
helps to restore muscle equilibrium between right
and left masseter muscle . There is also an im-
provement in functional movements of organ of
Friction movements are defined as fingertips
pressure in trigger points therapy. This technique is
based on local tissue remodelling that may lead to
congestion and local inflammatory response. Con-
sequently, it leads to the reconstruction of muscle’s
microstructure and restores proper tissue architec-
ture. Another asset of pressing trigger points is that
it may be effective in short-term pain relief because
it activates pain-gate mechanism. It is very impor-
tant to increase the pressure in one particular, sensi-
tive point, until the patient feels no pain .
One of the forms of “petrissage” is skin and
muscles “rolling” which basically works as stretch-
ing of muscular tissues  The main effects of
stretching are: improvement in range of motion,
short-term pain relief, viscoelastic changes in ten-
don muscle unit as well as decrease of muscle con-
traction (4.5% to 28%) [27, 28].
Massage Therapy: Key to Myofascial Pain Management
The range of motions achieved by stretching
persists even after manual therapy, which indi-
cates permanent adaptation of muscles  re-
search results have revealed that those adaptive
changes occur already on Messenger rNA level
. Lower level of muscle tautness was revealed
by electromyography (EMG) record, which leads
to the conclusion that stretching is a very effective
muscle relaxation technique, including masseter
muscles [31, 32].
In order to carry out a manual therapy session
effectively, which means to reduce or even elimi-
nate the myofascial pain of stomatognathic system
permanently, good and precise therapeutic pro-
tocol must be followed. It takes approximately 30
minutes to perform a typical massage of a mastica-
tion organ. It is recommended to perform this mas-
sage twice a week with at least a 48h break between
sessions [23, 24]. The total number of therapeutic
meetings is usually eight but it may be adjusted
for individual needs of the particular patient [23,
24]. The massage is usually used in the treatment
of masseter muscles and temporal muscles due to
its easy accessibility [25, 33]. During one session
all of the mentioned kinds of massages should be
applied and last for a long or short time, but when
short they need to be cyclically repeated [24, 25].
The first step is to prepare muscles for deep tis-
sue work by using “effleurage” (which is commonly
used at the beginning and the end of every mas-
sage) and its soothing, stroking movement along
the fibres of masseter muscles and temporal mus-
cles. The next phase is “kneading” – the skin and its
underlying tissues are moved in a circular, rotating
motion. It is worth remembering that we should
increase the pressure while working on the tissue.
In the case of masseter muscles we just use finger-
tips of three fingers – index finger, middle finger
Fig. 1. Kneading of masseter muscle applying circular
motions and intensified pressure. Three fingers are
used to perform the massage
Ryc. 1. Ugniatanie mięśnia żwacza z zastosowaniem
okrężnych ruchów o wzmożonej sile nacisku z użyciem
Fig. 2. Kneading of temporal muscle applying circular
motions and intensified pressure is carried out with
whole palm of the hand and fingers
Ryc. 2. Ugniatanie mięśnia skroniowego z zastoso-
waniem okrężnych ruchów o wzmożonej sile nacisku
z użyciem całej dłoni
Fig. 3. Friction – gradually increased pressure to trig-
ger points around muscle pass of mandible muscle by
using the tip of index finger
Ryc. 3. Tarcie przez ucisk – stopniowo zwiększający się
ucisk na punkt spustowy w przebiegu mięśnia żwacza
z użyciem opuszki palca wskazującego
Fig. 4. Stretching of mandibular muscle by using
thumbs, moving from upper insertion of this muscle to
its lower insertion
Ryc. 4. rozciąganie mięśnia żwacza z zastosowaniem
kciuków przesuwających się od górnego do dolnego
przyczepu tego mięśnia
M. Miernik et al.
and ring finger – to press the muscular tissue, us-
ing a circular motion in several points (Fig. 1). The
temporal muscle, on the other hand, requires that
the physiotherapist use the whole hand to perform
the massage. The physiotherapist should apply his
hands onto the patient’s head with the thumbs
resting on the patient’s forehead while at the same
time his index and middle fingers should be located
around the temples. ring fingers should be placed
behind the ears. While making small circular move-
ments with our hands we apply gentle pressure to
perform the massage in the proper way (Fig. 2).
The next step is friction massage, therapy of
trigger points. When we find a trigger point on the
course of the muscle, especially masseter muscle,
we should press it with a fingertip and gradually
increase the pressure until the patient feels no
pain. This procedure takes approximately 5 to 15
minutes (Fig. 3) [17, 24].
After trigger point therapy, it is time to stretch
the masseter muscles. There are two methods for
doing this. First of them involves pulling the muscle
along the pass of its fibres. Having very good stabi-
lization for his hands under the bottom edge of the
patient’s mandible, the physiotherapist is in a perfect
and proper position to start stretching. His thumbs
should slide from the upper insertion of masseter
muscle downward, in the direction of its lower in-
sertion (Fig. 4). The second method of stretching is
called cross stretching, where the bilateral pressure
is applied to the muscle. Pressure, being applied to
the muscle from the cheek side, around the lower
insertion of the muscle, runs into the dorsal direc-
tion. Pressure applied around the upper insertion of
the muscle runs towards the abdominal area. Dur-
ing the process, the muscle itself takes the shape of
letter “S” (Fig. 5). It is very important to remember
that stretching is the most effective if it is extended
or prolonged or when the breaks between stretch-
ing are short and muscle-tendon unit has no time
to return to its original shape. With the extended
duration of stretching (prolonged to at least 30 sec-
onds) the muscle’s ability to deform increases .
Manual therapy session of stomatoghnatic muscu-
lar system should be ended by previously described
effleurage and kneading.
Massage is an effective method in treating
temporomandibular disorders. Due to the manual
therapy significant improvement may be seen in
the subjective and objective health status of the
patient. A positive change in the patient’s mental
health is associated with frequent contact between
patient and the doctor. The described therapeutic
protocol is clinically useful as it leads to a signifi-
cant reduction in myofascial pain. It is also very
easy to apply in everyday medical practice.
Fig. 5. Cross stretching of mandibular muscle applying
bilateral pressure by index and middle fingers of both
Ryc. 5. Krzyżowe rozciąganie mięśnia żwacza z zasto-
sowaniem obustronnego ucisku mięśnia z użyciem pal-
ców wskazujących i środkowych obu dłoni
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Address for correspondence:
Department of Prosthetic Dentistry
Wroclaw Medical University
Conflict of interest: None declared