A few weeks ago, I had an appointment with physical therapist David Reavy. As he poked and prodded my body during the initial evaluation, he asked me a question that honestly kind of shocked me: "Have you been getting headaches lately?"
Indeed I had been-bad ones. So bad that neither Tylenol nor Advil could relieve the pain that felt like a rubber band squeezing my head, and was making it difficult for me to sleep, work, or generally function like a normal human adult.
"Uh, yeah," I replied. "How did you know?"
It turns out that my shoulders, neck, and especially my jaw were super tight-so tight that he could tell just by looking at my posture. And when your body stiffens up to that degree, it can lead to unrelenting tension headaches.
What happened next absolutely blew my mind: He made my headache disappear in about 10 seconds. All it took was one deceptively simple, ridiculously effective exercise to release the tension from my jaw: a masseter release.
But first: What is the masseter muscle, and how can it give you a headache?
The masseter is the thick muscle that connects your jawbone and your cheekbone and plays a major role in chewing. If you clench your jaw (like I do when I'm stressed), then you run the risk of it tightening up. This is very common.
So how does that give you a headache? Turns out that a tight jaw triggers a chain reaction that restricts other muscles in your head and neck, including your suboccipitals (a group of muscles at the base of your skull) and your anterior and middle scalenes (neck muscles), explains Reavy. "When the force is too great you can get tension headaches," he says.
How to do a masseter muscle massage
Place the pads of your fingers or knuckles at the masseter muscle. Then, open your jaw as much as you can. Close your mouth, and repeat until you feel the muscle release. That's it.
"To start, I would do it a few times a day, especially if you tend to clench your teeth when you are stressed," Reavy says. "This not only helps with tension headaches but also TMJ."
If you're skeptical, just try it-and know that I haven't had a headache since I left Reavy's office.