Trigeminal Neuralgia | Pain in the face and jaw
Trigeminal neuralgia is a very painful condition where pain radiates into the face and jaw. The trigeminal nerve carries pain, feeling and sensation from the brain to the skin of the face. In the case of trigeminal neuralgia, most medical professionals cannot find the cause for why this pain started. This is borne out by the definition of trigeminal neuralgia. Trigeminal neuralgia means that there is nerve pain in the nerve distribution of the trigeminal nerve. It actually does not tell a person what is causing the condition. When a physician and a patient believes that a nerve is getting compressed, it is easy to see why a surgery would be recommended. Unfortunately, when cervical neck instability is the cause of the neuralgia, the surgery does not help relieve the pain.
Cervical instability can also be responsible for almost all painful neuralgias of the head and face including occipital and trigeminal neuralgia, as well as structural headaches including tension, migraines and cluster.
Before you continue with this article, do you have questions about Trigeminal Neuralgia treatment? You can get help and information from our Caring Medical Staff.
Blood vessels compressing the nerve can be shown to be problems of cervical instability that can be corrected without surgery or pharmacological management
Research from university and medical researchers in India published in the October-December 2017 edition of the Asian journal of neurosurgery reviewed current Trigeminal Neuralgia treatment.(1) Here are highlights of their research:
- Trigeminal neuralgia is described as a sudden, severe, brief, stabbing, and recurrent pain within one or more branches of the trigeminal nerve.
- Type 1 as intermittent and Type 2 as constant pain represent distinct clinical, pathological, and prognostic entities.
- While there are many things that may cause Trigeminal Neuralgia including nerve compression or nerve stretch injury, neurovascular conflict is the most accepted theory.
- My comment: Neurovascular conflict is briefly defined as blood vessels compressing upon the nerves, In the description above, nerve compression, nerve stretch injury, and Neurovascular conflict, can be shown to be problems of cervical instability that can be corrected without surgery or pharmacological management. This will be discussed below.
- We are going to briefly diverge her to interrupt with a 2006 study that will help us understand this study’s suggestion that surgery will no longer be warranted for Trigeminal neuralgia. In 2006, Polish researchers wrote in the The Polish otolaryngology that:
- “Microvascular decompression (MVD) is a treatment of choice, based on the separation of offending (blood) vessel from the nerve. Those procedures are safe, with high rate success according to the literature ranging from 70-90%. “(2) If the surgery is so good, why not offer it immediately to these patients? The question gets more confused in 2017.
- Back to 2017 and the Indian research:
- Carbamazepine (a powerful anticonvulsant medication to treat seizures, nerve pain, and bipolar disorder) is the drug of choice in Trigeminal Neuralgia; baclofen ( a muscle relaxant), lamotrigine (to treat seizures, nerve pain, and bipolar disorder), clonazepam (typically for anxiety and panic attacks, whose side effects include increase in suicidal tendencies) , oxcarbazepine (typically to treat epileptic seizures), topiramate (to treat seizures and migraine headaches), phenytoin (for seizures), gabapentin (for seizures and shingles), pregabalin (for nerve and muscle pain, may be offered in cases of fibromyalgia), and sodium valproate (to treat seizures, migraines, and bipolar disorder)can be used.
- Multi drugs are useful when patients are unable to tolerate higher doses of Carbamazepine.
- With an availability of increasing number of anticonvulsant drugs, it is likely that surgical option may not be offered for many years.1
The surgical answer? If surgery is so successful, why subject patients prolonged drug use as a means to prolong the need for surgery?
- Back to the research: “A multidisciplinary approach using antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs such as amitriptyline and duloxetine is needed for the management of emotional status.”1
- Botulinum toxin Type A injections may be offered before surgery or unwilling to undergo surgery, and in failed drug treatment.
- Tetracaine nerve block as an additional treatment after Carbamazepine, acupuncture and peripheral nerve stimulation can be used.1
The Indian researchers gave an exhaustive and detailed study on how to help patients with Trigeminal Neuralgia. Like many other conditions we see, surgery is thought to be a good option, but only after years of pharmacological pain management. Why not seek something more curative?
The difficulty in diagnosis and the problems of too much treatment or inappropropriate treatment was recently discussed in research by doctors in Germany at the Göttingen University Medical Center. Here they looked at oral problems.
- Trigeminal neuralgia is characterized by repetitive pain commonly triggered by chewing and manipulation of the gums.
- Due to these symptoms, patients are likely to consult their local dentist when symptoms first develop and may receive further dental evaluation and treatment before they are referred to a neurologist or neurosurgeon.
- Forty-one patients (82% of the study group) initially consulted their dentist; of these,
- 27 patients received invasive dental treatment for the pain syndrome, including extractions, root canal treatments, and implants.
- A high percentage of patients that are surgically treated for trigeminal neuralgia consult their dentist first and receive possibly unjustified dental treatment. Differential diagnoses include odontogenic pain syndromes as well as atypical orofacial pain.
- This study acknowledges difficulties in correctly diagnosing trigeminal neuralgia, but seems to underestimate the extent.(3)
The same study looked at the surgical treatment options:
- Eighty-two percutaneous rhizotomies (destroying part of the nerve causing pain) and 33 microvascular decompressions (open brain surgery to relieve pressure on the cranial nerve) were performed in 99 trigeminal neuralgia patients.Two thirds reported being pain-free in follow up.
These are very difficult procedures and invasive procedures to get only 2 out of 3 patients pain-free. One out of three continues on with their pain.
Treating Trigeminal Neuralgia by examining ligaments
For people suffering with this condition and not getting help from the conventional routes, an examination of cervical ligament instability is an option that should be considered.
The ligaments, muscles and tendons in the suboccipital region (back of head) cause an irritation of some autonomic nerves in the neck. These autonomic nerves (stellate ganglion etc.) then cause the severe lancinating pain that these patients often experience. The referral pain can be significant and simulate the pain of trigeminal neuralgia.
If the person is tender in the neck or back of the head to manual palpation, then there is a good chance that Prolotherapy will be the treatment that finally gets rid of their trigeminal neuralgia pain.
Trigeminal neuralgia pain is typically on one side and very, very significant. Sometimes the TMJ needs to be treated, and occasionally a nerve blocks into the trigeminal nerve. Once the TMJ or neck ligaments are tightened with Prolotherapy, the facial pain remits. In our offices, most patients would need to come every 3 to 4 weeks and receive four to seven visits.
Once the ligament laxity has been relieved, so is the autonomic nerve irritation. The net result is a pain-free, happier person.
Case of trigeminal neuralgia helped with Prolotherapy
As discussed, there is often undiagnosed ligament laxity either in the neck or the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) causing referral pain patterns that create symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia.
- The patient is a 77 year-old-woman diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia and as with most people with this pain, no one could determine the cause. She had struggled with this pain for five years.
Previous treatments included six root canals and acupuncture yet her pain remained. A friend referred her to Caring Medical for Prolotherapy.
During the patient’s first visit she explained that her greatest pain came with eating, talking and smiling. Often pain would shoot from her lips to her ears.
Dr. Hauser examined the patient’s TMJ and face and determined she would be a good candidate.
- Her first treatment consisted of the nerve block to her sphenopalatine ganglion (a group of nerves located in the head, just above the nose) and four dextrose Prolotherapy injections to her left TMJ.
One month later the patient returned and reported that her face was no longer painful to the touch and she no longer had shooting pain from her lips to her ear. She had some pain with talking and eating but was hopeful that the next scheduled treatments would alleviate these problems.
Prolotherapy for Trigeminal Neuralgia
In the Journal of Prolotherapy, our colleagues Eileen Conaway, DO and Brian Browning, DO describe a case history of a 63 year old Hispanic female.(4)
The patient was referred to their office for osteopathic evaluation and treatment for chronic neck and head pain. Among other somatic complaints, her history revealed 13 years of burning pain on the left side of the forehead and scalp.
The pattern of her pain followed the V1 nerve path (see illustration to left). The pain began after undergoing two neurosurgical procedures to repair a cerebral aneurysm.
She reported pain even to light touch of the affected areas of the scalp and was often unable to brush her hair due to the pain it caused. She had tried over the counter analgesics and tramadol-acetaminophen with little relief. She was initially treated with osteopathic manipulation which provided symptomatic relief for a few hours. She was hesitant to try additional medications due to their side effect profile as she also suffered from hypertension, dyslipidemia, and non-insulin dependent diabetes.
She was treated with Neural Prolotherapy on three occasions. The first two injections were one week apart, and the third was 12 weeks later.
After three treatments with Neural Prolotherapy she experienced complete resolution of her V1 branch trigeminal neuralgia. After one year, the patient reports the ability to brush her hair without pain and overall improvement in quality of life and her ability to perform activities of daily living.
Also detailed in the Journal of Prolotherapy is a case history described by Alan Itkin, PA-C, MS-4 in Treatment of Trigeminal Neuralgia Utilizing Neural Prolotherapy: A Case Report.(5)
- A 70-year-old male was referred by his allergist for evaluation and treatment of trigeminal neuralgia.
- The patient reported a history of facial bone fractures nearly 30 years earlier with no subsequent symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia.
- He reported having root canals complicated by infections several years prior to the onset of trigeminal neuralgia.
- His diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia was made by a neurologist prior to being seen in our clinic.
- At the time of his initial visit, the patient was being treated with carbamazepine and lamictal.
- The patient complained of severe, sharp, stabbing pains on the right side of his face involving the mandibular, maxillary and ophthalmic branches of the trigeminal nerve. He also noted severe pain when trying to brush his teeth.
Examination showed no focal neurologic deficits. There were dysesthesias (abnormal sensation) and allodynia (abnormal and heightened sense of pain) along the maxillary and ophthalmic branches of the trigeminal nerve.
- Throughout the visit the patient did have a characteristic “tic” every 1-2 minutes due to the pain of trigeminal neuralgia. We elected to proceed with a neural prolotherapy treatment. Prior to the procedure the patient was given a cotton swab to rub against his gums and teeth to reproduce some of his pain and sensitivity. This was done to obtain a baseline of his pain prior to the procedure.
The patient was treated utilizing a neural prolotherapy technique. Approximately 15 injections were provided to the distribution of the 3 involved branches of the trigeminal nerve.
After the procedure, the patient was instructed to utilize the cotton swab to try and reproduce his symptoms. The patient was unable to reproduce any of the pain and sensitivity that was present prior to the procedure. The patient was observed in the clinic for 15 minutes and had no “tics” from trigeminal neuralgia. The patient was instructed to follow up in 1 week however the patient did not return until 6 months later.
Six month follow up:
At this visit, the patient reported that the neural prolotherapy treatment provided him with 5 months of complete resolution of his symptoms. He stated that his symptoms only returned after hitting his head when exiting his car. His complaints at this time involved severe, sharp stabbing pain in the right forehead, right eyeball, periorbital region and right temple. He complained of pain when getting a haircut, he found that just simply touching his hair and scalp caused him severe pain.
The patient was given a second treatment of neural prolotherapy along the course of the trigeminal nerve. The same technique as the first treatment was utilized. The patient again noted immediate complete resolution of his pain.
Do you have questions about Trigeminal Neuralgia treatment? You can get help and information from our Caring Medical Staff.
1 Yadav YR, Nishtha Y, Sonjjay P, Vijay P, Shailendra R, Yatin K. Trigeminal neuralgia. Asian Journal of Neurosurgery. 2017 Oct;12(4):585. [Google Scholar]
2 Borucki L, Szyfter W, Wrobel M, Sosnowski P. Neurovascular conflicts. Otolaryngologia polska= The Polish otolaryngology. 2006;60(6):809-15.[Google Scholar]
3 von Eckardstein KL, Keil M, Rohde V. Unnecessary dental procedures as a consequence of trigeminal neuralgia. Neurosurg Rev. 2015 Apr;38(2):355-60; discussion 360. doi: 10.1007/s10143-014-0591-1. Epub 2014 Nov 25.[Google Scholar]
4 Conaway E, Browning B, Neural Prolotherapy for Neuralgia. Journal of Prolotherapy. 2014;6:e928-e931.
5 Itkin A. Treatment of Trigeminal Neuralgia Utilizing Neural Prolotherapy: A Case Report. Journal of Prolotherapy. 2016;8:e961-e965.