Movement over the surface of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disc produces tractional forces. These forces potentially increase the magnitude of shear stresses and contribute to wear and fatigue of the disc. Theoretically, tractional forces in all synovial joints are the result of frictional forces, due to rubbing of the cartilage surfaces, and plowing forces, due to translation of the stress-field through the cartilage matrix as the joint surface congruency changes during motion. For plowing forces to occur in the TMJ, there must be mediolateral translation of the stress-field as the condyle moves dorsoventrally during jaw function. To test whether mediolateral stress-field translation occurs in the intact TMJ, we measured stress-field position and translation velocities in ten normal individuals during rhythmic jaw opening and closing. Magnetic resonance imaging and jaw tracking were combined to animate the three-dimensional position of the stress-field between the articulating surfaces. This allowed for mediolateral translation velocity measurements of the centroid of the stress-field. The results showed that during jaw opening and closing at 0.5 Hz, the average peak mediolateral translation velocity was 35 +/- 17 mm/sec. When opening and closing increased to 1.0 Hz, the average peak velocity was 40 +/- 19 mm/sec. Theoretical model estimates of the work done during such translation ranged from 6 to 709 mJ between the individual joints studied. The potential clinical importance of this measure is that long-term exposure of the TMJ disc to high work may result in fatigue failure of the TMJ disc.