People suffering from trigeminal neuralgia often feel like everyday activities—eating, talking, shaving, or even feeling wind on their face—are like torture. These small parts of living can trigger jolts of pain akin to electric shocks, aching, and/or burning in the face. Researchers estimate 10,000–15,000 new cases of this neurological disorder every year, but very few treatments offer a permanent solution.
Trigeminal neuralgia (TN), also known as tic douloureux, is a chronic pain disorder typically caused by a malfunctioning nerve cluster. The result is sudden, severe facial pain at the fifth cranial nerve, which provides sensations and signals to much of the head, face, torso, and neck. Commonly affecting just a few nerves, problems are felt throughout the body. TN can happen naturally with age, or it can be caused by an injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, or a brain abnormality. TN attacks typically stop for a while and then return, but the condition can be progressive and worsen over time with shorter pain-free periods.
TN affects twice as many women as men and is most common in people older than 50 (although it can occur even in infancy). Having multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure, or smoking increases the risk.
Several conditions lead to TN pain:
Symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia
TN pain is generally sudden and intense on one side of the face. It can last a few seconds or up to two minutes at a time, sometimes even several times a day, and attacks can occur regularly for days to weeks or longer. After a while, any movement or physical contact involving the face can cause extreme pain:
Beyond the physical pain, TN also can have extreme emotional and social impacts should the symptoms interfere with a person’s ability to work and have relationships. Patients may avoid social contact and fear daily activities, which can lead to depression and sleep problems as well.
TN diagnosis is based on medical history and symptoms along with physical and neurological examinations, including MRI brain scans to rule out tumors or multiple sclerosis. Once diagnosed, people often seek treatment for their pain through medications, surgery, and complementary treatments.
Medications. Several medications commonly are prescribed to help treat the symptoms of TN:
However, medications often lose their effectiveness over time or cause side effects like dizziness, confusion, nausea, cognitive disturbances, memory loss, excess fatigue, or bone marrow suppression.
Surgery. If medication fails to relieve pain or produces intolerable side effects, doctors may recommend surgical treatment. Common surgeries include the following:
Although these procedures often successfully relieve pain for a few years and can be repeated, they are rarely permanent. Surgeries also carry serious risks, such as facial numbness or weakness, hearing loss, balance problems, cerebrospinal fluid leakage, infection, surface numbness, deep burning pain, or stroke.
Complementary Treatments. Some people manage TN pain with varying degrees of success alongside medications through alternative treatments:
Of all the alternative treatments, chiropractic care is by far the most effective. If a patient has upper cervical spine problems, that can be the direct cause of TN pain. Patients who visit chiropractors often find relief from nerve pain because the care focuses on realigning the spinal cord. Treatment notably stimulates the nerve system, restores nerve function, and eases pain commonly associated with TN.
“We have seen several patients with trigeminal neuralgia symptoms and have gotten them 90–100% pain free even with conservative chiropractic care,” says Dr. Rick Gross of Quality Care Chiropractic. “The symptoms can stem from other areas, such as the spine or temporomandibular joint (TMJ), but by using effective spine and TMJ adjustments, we take pressure off the nerves and relieve the pain.”
Seven-Year Crick: A 68-year-old woman with a 7½-year history of worsening head and neck pain from trigeminal neuralgia after a brain tumor surgical resection went through years of unsuccessful medication and physical therapies, so they tried chiropractic care (ultrasound, manual and soft tissue therapies, home stretching). After initial treatment and 18 months of supportive care, the patient reported satisfactory improvement in her neck pain, TMJ syndrome, and trigeminal neuralgia. While never completely pain-free, the patient continually reported minimal pain.
Quality Care Chiropractic: “We recently had a patient diagnosed five years previously with migraine headaches because of severe head, cheek, jaw, and neck pain. Medications gave some relief, but he had to take it daily. A different doctor diagnosed him with TN (the nerve going to the cheek and jaw was inflamed and irritated). That doctor gave him different pain medication. That helped for years, but again only if he took it daily. He came to see us because that medication was no longer relieving the pain, and he was told that surgery was the next step. He was terrified of that option,” relates Dr. Gross. “We discovered that his TMJ dysfunction was the real problem and had occurred after extensive dental work. After a single chiropractic treatment for his TMJ, he was about 80% pain free and almost completely pain free after three treatments, plus his jaw finally worked better than ever, allowing him to open and close his mouth normally without pain or severe restriction.”
Confident We Can Help
“When treating someone with trigeminal neuralgia, we are very confident that we can help,” offers Dr. Gross. “In each of the cases we have treated, the pain has never come back. We also use the minimally invasive MLS Laser to treat severe nerve pain. In addition to powerful pain relief, this also boosts cellular energy, so the patient heals significantly faster.”
If you or anyone you know is suffering from this kind of facial nerve pain, please contact Quality Care Chiropractic in Aurora, IL, at (630) 499-2225 to asks questions and learn about the next steps to getting you back to whole-body health.