German Contact Help Login Register

Pterygoid muscles

Anatomy and supply

The pterygoid muscles (“wing muscles”) are two jaw muscles located on the inner surface of the mandible.

  • Medial pterygoid muscle: originates from the pterygoid fossa and pterygoid process of the sphenoid. Distally it inserts on the pterygoid tuberosity on the inner surface of the mandibular angle. Along with the masseter, this muscle forms a sling around the mandible. The medial pterygoid can be palpated medially to the ramus of the mandible both intra- and extraorally.
  • Lateral pterygoid muscle: has two heads which lie almost horizontally to each other. The small superior head runs from the infratemporal crest of the sphenoid to the articular disc of the temporomandibular joint. The much larger inferior head courses from the pterygoid process of sphenoid to the condylar process of mandible. Due to its anatomy, palpation of the lateral pterygoid is quite difficult.

Both muscles are innervated by nerves which have the same name and branch out from the mandibular nerve (medial and lateral pterygoid nerves).


The pterygoid muscles are muscles of mastication and serve the movement of the temporomandibular joint. The contraction of the medial pterygoid elevates the mandible (jaw closure) and moves it forward (protrusion). These movements are reinforced by the muscle sling formed with the masseter. The lateral pterygoid differs from the other three muscles of mastication as it is the only one among them which can open the jaw. Once the mouth is opened with the help of this muscle, that movement is then continued with the help of the suprahyoid muscles. The bilateral activation of the lateral pterygoid causes also protrusion, whereas the unilateral contraction moves the mandible laterally (laterotrusion) and this way supporting chewing.


Temporomandibular joint disorders, such as crunching, popping or pain during chewing, are very often caused by tension of the jaw muscles. Usually both the masseter and temporal muscles are affected, whereas stiffnening of the pterygoid is relatively rare. Common causes for tension in the pterygoid muscles include abnormal occlusion, trauma, but also stress (e.g. during rage attacks or state of anxiety).

Get me the rest of this article for free
Create your account and you’ll be able to see the rest of this article, plus videos and a quiz to help you memorize the information, all for free. You’ll also get access to articles, videos, and quizzes about dozens of other anatomy systems.
Create your free account ➞
Show references


  • D. Drenckhahn/J. Waschke: Taschenbuch Anatomie, 1st edition, Urban & Fischer Verlag/Elsevier (2008), p. 184-185
  • W. Stelzenmüller/J. Wiesner: Therapie von Kiefergelenkschmerzen, 2nd edition, Thieme Verlag (2010), p. 127-129
  • M. Schünke: Topographie und Funktion des Bewegungssystems, Thieme Verlag (2000), p. 438
  • J. Upledger/J. Vredevoogd: Lehrbuch der CranioSacralen Therapie I, 5th edition, Haug Verlag (2003), p. 257-259


  • Achudhan Karunaharamoorthy


  • Pterygoid muscles - Yousun Koh 
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.
The head is comprised of many structures including the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, each of which aid in various sensory functions, such as sight, hearing and taste.
  1. Muscles of facial expression
  2. Muscles of mastication
  3. Muscles of mastication II
    Muscle Facts
  4. Superficial blood vessels of the head
  5. Superficial nerves of the head
  6. Maxillary artery
  7. Head
    Question Bank
The skull is the most complex arrangement of bones within the body and serves mainly to protect your brain. Here you'll learn about the bones that define the cranium.
  1. Anterior and lateral skull
  2. Posterior and lateral skull
  3. Calvaria
  4. Inferior view of base of the skull
  5. Superior view of base of the skull
  6. Midsagittal skull
  7. Sphenoid bone
  8. Mandible

You might be also interested in the following articles

Create your free account.
Start learning anatomy in less than 60 seconds.