Dr. Andrew Arnold discusses the painful condition known as trigeminal neuralgia and how Chiropractic can be one option in the treatment approach.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be incredibly painful. It a chronic pain condition affecting the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is one of 12 major nerves exiting from the cervical spine and brain carrying sensation from your face to your brain. The slightest stimulation to the face or teeth can set this off causing excruciating pain.
This condition is chronic which means it builds slowly over time. Initially, you may feel relatively short attacks however, over time this may escalate particularly if you are under a lot of stress.
It seems those people over 50 are more prone.
What does Trigeminal Neuralgia feel like?
After a recent bout of this myself I can certainly sympathize with anyone who suffers this condition. It’s not fun!
Symptoms range from bouts of severe, shooting or jabbing pains triggered by hot or cold foods or drinks, brushing teeth, touching the face, chewing etc. Each episode can escalate quite quickly to an unbearable level which could last seconds to minutes. Over time this can drag on days, weeks, months or longer.  There can also periods of no pain which can be disconcerting in of itself. Other symptoms include a constant ache effecting the face muscles (Temporalis – above the ear, masseter – cheek, digastric – under the jaw, pterygoid – back of the teeth) and the teeth (mainly the top however, my condition effected the bottom molars also). The pain distribution follows the area supplies by the trigeminal nerve. This includes the cheek, jaw, teeth and gums (mainly upper but can be lower), lips, or less often the eye and forehead. Other muscles may be triggered into spasm as a result, e.g. the Temporalis. This condition is usually uni-lateral, i.e. effects only one side of the face at a time. The pain is often focused in one area and then escalates to spread to a wider area. Attacks may become more frequent and intense as the condition progresses.
Your Chiropractor and/or medical doctor are best positioned to help you diagnose this condition.
So, what causes trigeminal neuralgia?
Trigeminal neuralgia is also called tic douloureux. What happens is the trigeminal nerve's function is disrupted. There are varying causes ranging from mechanical (a blood vessel spasm which is in close proximity to the nerve causing it to malfunction), the aging process, multiple sclerosis or other similar conditions, a tumour, brain lesion etc.
More commonly however, it is due to acute persistent stress and tension which lowers the immune function causing you to become more susceptible to viruses. Commonly, the chicken pox virus which often remains dormant in our bodies may be activated in the trigeminal nucleus in the brain stem.
So, what can you do?
Every case presents just that little differently however, here’s my opinion and experience.
You will need to see you medical doctor and look to neuropathic medications. The initial pain can be too much to bare.
In my view it’s about dealing with your lowered immunity and adrenal stress. A Naturopath is a good idea. My approach was to take Vitamins B and C, a good multivitamin and nerve calming remedies such as Nervatona by Metagenics.
Meditate, and lots. You need to manage any anxiety and stress. You may need to see a counsellor, kinesiologist or get a relaxing massage. I would also recommend seeing a cranial practitioner such as a Chiropractor or Osteopath. Furthermore, Chiropractic adjustments for the neck can also help alleviate this pain.
Finally, I found holding room temperature water in my mouth seemed to calm the neuralgic episodes. I also found applying a mouth ulcer gel to my gums helped.
You’ll need to experiment a little here as every case is different.
This is about management not necessarily cure. Be patient and vigilant. You can manage this and get relief. At the end of the day make sure you take this time for yourself.
Dr. Andrew Arnold is the director of Back In Motion Cranbourne and senior Chiropractor.
- Rodine, R.J., BSc, DC, Aker, P., DC, MSc, FCCS(C), FCCRS(C), Trigeminal neuralgia and chiropractic care: a case report, J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2010 Sep; 54(3): 177–186.