By Christy Cael
[Functional Anatomy]

The temporalis is a broad, fan-shaped muscle that covers the temple. Its fibers originate at the parietal, temporal, and frontal bones, then converge and run deep to the zygomatic arch. The temporalis connects to the mandible at the pointed coronoid process and the slightly anterior portion of the ramus; this attachment gives it leverage to retract the mandible, as well as elevate it.

Similar to the gluteus medius muscle of the hip, the fibers of the temporalis run both vertically and horizontally, allowing for variable action on the mandible. Vertical fibers pull the mandible upward toward the maxilla, a movement typically limited by approximation of the teeth. Horizontal fibers—running from the parietal bone (posterior) to the coronoid process of the mandible (anterior)—pull the mandible back toward the cranium, thus retracting the mandible.

The temporalis works with the pterygoid and masseter muscles during chewing. Together, they create the movements necessary for manipulating food. The complexity (and, often, asymmetry) of motions required for chewing is made possible by specific architecture in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This synovial joint is a modified hinge that contains an articular disc, and the flexible disc allows additional side-to-side motions (lateral flexion) and multidirectional mobility for asymmetrical motions typical during chewing.

A variety of issues may lead to dysfunction in the TMJ. Structural issues such as malocclusion (misalignment between upper and lower teeth) and osteoarthritis are not uncommon, but the most common cause of TMJ pain is myofascial dysfunction in the muscles involved in chewing—temporalis, masseter, and pterygoid muscles. Hypertonicity and myofascial adhesions in these muscles may limit mobility and alter the positioning of the jaw. Additionally, tension in these muscles affects positioning of the articular disc, creating the “pop” or “click” noise commonly associated with TMJ dysfunction. 

Clients with TMJ dysfunction commonly experience head, neck, and jaw pain and tension, and may report jaw clenching and teeth grinding, particularly during times of stress. Specific soft-tissue manipulation, trigger-point release, and relaxation of the muscles involved (including the temporalis), may significantly decrease these symptoms and improve the function of the TMJ. 

Christy Cael is a licensed massage therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist. Her private practice focuses on injury treatment, biomechanical analysis, craniosacral therapy, and massage for clients with neurological issues. She is the author of Functional Anatomy: Musculoskeletal Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Palpation for Manual Therapists (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009). Contact her at functionalbook@hotmail.com.



• Origin: Temporal fossa

Insertion: Coronoid process and anterior border of the ramus of the mandible


• Elevates the mandible

• Retracts the mandible


• Trigeminal nerve


Palpating the Temporalis

Positioning: client supine.

Sitting at the client’s head, locate the superior edge of the zygomatic arch with your fingertips.

Slide your fingertips superiorly toward the temple and onto the fibers of the temporalis. 

Follow the fibers as they fan out across the frontal, parietal, and temporal bones.

Have the client gently open and close the mouth and/or clench the jaw to assure proper location.


Client Homework—Temple Friction Rub

1. Place the flat part of your fingertips firmly on your temples just above and in front of the tops of your ears.

2. Maintaining a steady pressure, rub back and forth across the tight muscle fibers on your skull.

3. Begin with gentle pressure, allowing your fingers to slide against your hair or skin, then increase pressure to move the flesh against your skull.

4. As the muscles release, try rubbing in circles or repeating with your mouth open.

Editor’s note: The Client Homework element in Functional Anatomy is intended as a take-home resource for clients experiencing issues with the profiled muscle. The stretches identified in Functional Anatomy should not be performed within massage sessions or progressed by massage therapists, in order to comply with state laws and maintain scope of practice.

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