Acupuncture can treat the nerve pain of trigeminal neuralgia
No one likes to be in pain. Pain in the face is particularly excruciating, especially since the discomfort of trigeminal neuralgia (TN) tends to be electric shock-like or stabbing in nature. Trigeminal neuralgia can make even the lightest touch on your face seem terrible.
Enter acupuncture. Recent research looking at a group of close to 1,000 people, showed that acupuncture was as effective as carbamazepine (Tegretol, Carbatrol), a common drug used to treat trigeminal neuralgia, in stopping pain. The upside to using acupuncture is there are often no side effects as opposed to carbamazepine. My practice has an integrative approach to treatment, so I work with doctors to manage a patient’s pain. In some cases, patients are able to reduce the dosage of medicine they take and eventually stop taking medications entirely when regularly receiving acupuncture and herbal medicine together.
What is trigeminal neuralgia and what causes TN?
The trigeminal nerve is the 5th cranial nerve. It is the largest of these nerves, and travels directly from the brain to your face. The trigeminal nerve is responsible for sensation in your face and also for movements associated with chewing and swallowing.
Trigeminal neuralgia, also called tic douloureux, is caused by some impairment of the normal function of the associated nerve. Often, a blood vessel is pressing on the nerve somewhere along its pathway from the brain to the face. This causes the nerve to malfunction. The malfunction causing TN creates a searing, electric shock-like or stabbing pain in the face. Other causes of trigeminal neuralgia are multiple sclerosis or a tumor compressing the nerve. It is also possible to find no particular cause, and this is most common in people in those over 40 years old. TN is more common in women than in men, and in those over 50 years old.
It is common for attacks of trigeminal neuralgia pain to have a short duration when symptoms are first experienced. Unfortunately, attacks often become longer-lasting and intractable. Some of the triggers of an attack of TN are shaving, brushing teeth, chewing, putting on makeup, wind blowing on your face, or smiling,
What are the symptoms of trigeminal neurgalgia?
Trigeminal neuralgia pain can range from short duration (only a few seconds) to pain that lasts for days or weeks. The areas on the face where pain is felt are the jaw, teeth, gums, cheek, and lips. Uncommonly, the trigeminal neuralgia pain is felt in the eye or on the forehead. Trigeminal neuralgia discomfort is often felt on one side of the face at a time. It is common for the duration and intensity of discomfort to increase over time.
How will my doctor diagnose and treat trigeminal neuralgia?
Your doctor will likely diagnose trigeminal neuralgia through talking to you about your symptoms – what is the pain like? Where do you feel it? When do you feel it? Your doctor will also likely perform some neurological exams on your face to test the trigeminal nerve. Your doctor may also send you for an MRI.
Common treatments include anti-seizure medications, muscle relaxants, and certain kinds of anti-depressants. Other treatments include surgery to cut the nerve and rhizotomy to damage the nerve fibers.
How does acupuncture evaluate and treat trigeminal neuralgia?
Not unlike your doctor, when I’m treating someone for trigeminal neuralgia using acupuncture and herbal medicine, discussion of your symptoms is a key piece in creating an accurate treatment plan. In fact, talking about what you’re experiencing is a key part of every visit to my office. Acupuncturists love to talk details. We’ll also talk about when your symptoms started, what makes your pain better or worse, and about your general health.
The pain of trigeminal neuralgia has been show to respond well to acupuncture. I also like to use herbal medicine when treating trigeminal neuralgia pain. Herbal medicine allows continued treatment between acupuncture appointments, and certain Chinese herbs have been shown to stop even strong pain.
By combining the information gleaned from our discussion with traditional Chinese medicine diagnostic methods, I create a treatment plan based on what acupuncturists call a pattern diagnosis. Acupuncture and herbal medicine are used to correct the pattern of disharmony to restore the normal balance to the body. Re-achieving balance is what relieves pain and other symptoms. It is important to remember that pain that has been around a long time doesn’t disappear in one treatment, so patience is key. Additionally, the pain-stopping effects of acupuncture work cumulatively, so the successive treatments will provide more and longer lasting pain relief. For pain problems like trigeminal neuralgia, I generally recommend weekly appointments for six to eight weeks, and re-evaluation after the initial series.