Last week, I talked about the complexities of the lip muscles and how some movements of the lips and mouth, things like doing a zerbert, require activating more than just one muscle. There is one muscle though that is pertinent to just about every movement of the lips, especially the kiss!

The orbicularis oris surrounds the mouth, bringing life to the lips. Though it has been traditionally thought to be a sphincter muscle, by definition the description no longer seems to fit as this muscle operates in more ways than a sphincter muscle does. There appears to be contrasting opinions about orbicularis oris’ attachment points. Some research showed that the muscle attaches from the maxilla and mandible bones (the upper and lower jaw bones) to the lips while other research stated that the obicularis oris attaches from the muscle fibers surrounding the lips to the skin at the corners of the mouth. Either way, it is important to note that the fibers of the orbicularis oris run deep and can act independently.

Obicularis oris

In fact, for years cleft lip repair had focused on a simple repair of the orbicularis oris in order to improve the appearance of the lip, which it did. But, in motion the lip abnormally changed shape and, with age, it became distorted. One study utilizing cadavers with cleft lip repairs found “two different components in the orbicularis oris muscle, a superficial and a deep component. One is a retractor and the other is a constrictor of the lip. They have antagonistic actions to each other during lip movement.” The doctors decided that accuracy in the repair of the orbicularis oris, meaning – not mixing the fibers of these different mechanisms during reattachment, was of utmost importance so that “better results in the dynamic and three-dimensional configuration of the upper lip can be achieved, and unfavorable distortion can be avoided as the patients grow.” The doctors tried this in surgery with favorable results!

While the orbicularis oris may be best known as the muscle of the kiss, it does much more than pucker up the lips. Contracting this muscle helps to narrow, round, protrude, and close the lips. Think of all the things that require the lips to take action: eating your breakfast, whistling your favorite tune, sucking a straw stuck in your smoothie, breathing with a stuffy nose (think parted lips), zerberting your babies, and speaking – especially labial sounds or letters like “b”, “m”, and “p” that require complete or partial closure of both lips.

Injury to the orbicularis oris can cause pain, fatigue and drooling (remember what it was like to sip water after the dentist anesthetized your gums?). An injured orbicularis oris can put trumpet players, opera singers, and anyone else who depends on their lips out of work. One trumpet player had so overused his puckered lips playing “two to three shows a day for eight days” that he ruptured his lip!

Puckerers beware and take care of those lips! Besides trying to engage the various muscles of the mouth and making funny faces at yourself in the mirror like I suggested last week, you can also do some gentle Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball rolling of these muscles. While I don’t recommend that you roll directly on the lips, you can skin roll around your lips since there are many muscles (see list below for further details), including:

  • Buccinator
  • Depressor anguli oris
  • Levator anguli oris
  • Obicularis oris
  • Risorius
  • Zygomaticus major

All of which attach to the skin or fascia at the corners of the mouth. Here is a quick video of me demonstrating a couple of the ways that you can do this.

It’s been a while now since I’ve listened to that TED Talk and tried the mouth/vocal exercises in it that I discussed in last week’s post, but I’ll never forget the dismay I felt when I realized that I could no longer move my mouth in a way that I used to. If you don’t use it (insert muscle), you may lose it (insert action/movement). Obviously, it had been a while since I pretended to be a chug boat or given anyone a zerbert. If you asked my husband, he’d say that I wasn’t kissing him enough! I now realize it’s important to do so on a regular basis. Why? Because I’ve learned that keeping the facial muscles active and moving helps to keep the face symmetrical, enhance eating, and may improve speaking skills like enunciation and articulation. I recently practiced the vocal warm up exercises before teaching a class. Doing so did help me to feel less tongue tied and speak more fluidly. Why not exercise your face muscles right now. Pucker up to the person next to you, or better yet, give them a zerbert!

Liked this article? Read The Ins, Outs, and In Betweens of Your Digestive Tract: How Muscle Imbalances in Your Jaw and Neck Affect Digestion – Part One: Chewing