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Relieve Trigeminal Neuralgia with Acupuncture

Acupuncture for Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia, often described as one of the most painful conditions known to humanity, can turn simple daily activities into excruciating ordeals. Imagine a sudden, electric shock-like pain shooting through your face while brushing your teeth or speaking. This chronic pain condition, affecting the trigeminal nerve, can disrupt lives, making even the gentlest breeze feel unbearable. For those seeking relief from this relentless discomfort, acupuncture for trigeminal neuralgia has emerged as a promising therapy, offering a beacon of hope where conventional treatments may fall short.

In this blog post, we will explain what trigeminal neuralgia is, what causes trigeminal neuralgia, common triggers for trigeminal neuralgia, and how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine are revolutionizing life for trigeminal neuralgia patients.

Whether you are newly diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia or a have been suffering for years, join us on this journey as we explore everything you would want to know about trigeminal neuralgia, and how acupuncture and other natural therapies can be the key to a pain free life!

Understanding Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia, often called TN, is a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensation in your face. This condition is notorious for causing severe, electric shock-like pain in parts of the face, usually on one side. Everyday activities like eating or talking can trigger these excruciating episodes, making it a particularly challenging and distressing condition.

The trigeminal nerve is the fifth cranial nerve and is one of the most complex. It branches into three segments, covering the forehead, cheek, and jaw. When something irritates or puts pressure on this nerve, it can cause the intense pain characteristic of trigeminal neuralgia. Often, there’s no clear reason why someone develops TN, which can be frustrating for those affected. Although it can strike anyone, it tends to be more common in older adults, typically appearing in people over the age of 50. This could be due to the natural aging process, which might increase the likelihood of nerve compression or other issues that trigger the condition.

Women are more likely to develop trigeminal neuralgia than men. In fact, studies show that women are about twice as likely to be affected. The reasons for this gender difference aren’t fully understood, but it might be related to hormonal differences or other factors that influence nerve health.

Diagnosing trigeminal neuralgia can be tricky because its symptoms can mimic other facial pain disorders. Doctors usually rely on a combination of medical history, physical exams, and imaging tests like MRI scans to rule out other causes. Once diagnosed, treatment options can vary. Medications are often the first line of defense, with drugs designed to block pain signals, however these drugs are often ineffective and come with unpleasant side effects. For those who don’t find relief from medications, there are surgical options that can provide longer-lasting pain control, although these come with risks.

Potential Causes of Trigeminal Neuralgia

The potential causes of trigeminal neuralgia (TN) involve damage to the trigeminal nerve. These potential causes include:

Vascular Compression

As people age, arteries or veins close to the trigeminal nerve can become enlarged or displaced, compressing the trigeminal nerve. This is referred to as vascular compression. Over time, the pressure wears away the myelin sheath, the protective covering of the nerve. The damaged myelin causes the nerve to send abnormal pain signals to the brain, resulting in the intense facial pain characteristic of TN. This is the most common cause of TN, and age related vascular changes may account for why TN is so common in people over 50.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheath of nerves. The myelin sheath protects nerve cells, and allows signals to be sent faster and more efficiently. In individuals with MS, the myelin sheath around the trigeminal nerve can be damaged in a process called demyelination. Demyelination results in the same erratic pain signals that occur in TN due to vascular compression, making MS a significant cause of trigeminal neuralgia, especially in younger patients.

Tumors or Growths

Abnormal growths, such as tumors or cysts, can exert pressure on the trigeminal nerve. These growths can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Either way, the compression and irritation of the nerve by these growths disrupts normal trigeminal nerve function and leads to severe facial pain.

Infections and Inflammation

Infections, such as Lyme disease and shingles (herpes zoster) can lead to an inflammatory response that damages the trigeminal nerve, leading to the painful symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia. In many cases, the nerve damage and pain persist even after the infection has been cleared.

Idiopathic Trigeminal Neuralgia

In some cases, the exact cause of trigeminal neuralgia remains unknown despite thorough medical evaluation. Even after imaging studies and lab testing, in many cases of trigeminal neuralgia no identifiable reason for the nerve damage can be found. It can be extremely frustrating to experience severe facial pain without a clear cause.

Potential Triggers of Trigeminal Neuralgia

Various triggers can provoke or worsen the pain of trigeminal neuralgia, and identifying these triggers can help manage and reduce the frequency of painful episodes. Here are some common TN triggers:

Touch and Light Pressure

Even light touches or mild pressure on the face can trigger TN pain. Brushing teeth, washing the face, shaving, applying makeup, or wearing glasses can all cause pain due to the sensitivity of the trigeminal nerve.

Eating and Drinking

Movements of the jaw and mouth can activate pain, such as those involved in chewing, swallowing, and even talking can trigger pain episodes. Eating hot, cold, or spicy foods and drinks can also be problematic.

Temperature Changes

Extreme temperatures or sudden changes in temperature can provoke pain. Exposure to cold wind, air conditioning, or a warm breeze can trigger an episode. Drinking a hot or cold beverage may also cause pain.

Facial Movements

Specific movements of the face can activate the trigeminal nerve. Smiling, frowning, or any facial expressions can sometimes provoke pain.

Vibration and Motion

Vibrations or movements that affect the face can be triggers for TN. Brushing hair, walking briskly, or riding in a car with an open window can lead to pain episodes.

Dental Procedures

Dental work or procedures that involve the mouth and jaw can trigger pain. Routine dental cleanings, fillings, or any dental manipulations can all provoke pain due to the proximity to the trigeminal nerve.

Stress and Anxiety

Emotional stress and anxiety can exacerbate trigeminal neuralgia symptoms. High levels of stress and anxiety can increase muscle tension and drive inflammation, leading to more frequent and intense pain episodes.

Fatigue and Lack of Sleep

Physical and mental exhaustion can trigger TN pain. Not getting enough rest or experiencing poor sleep quality increases our overall sensitivity to pain and lead to more frequent TN episodes.

Weather Changes

Changes in weather, particularly barometric pressure, can trigger pain. Abrupt shifts in weather conditions, such as the onset of a storm or sudden temperature drops, can provoke trigeminal neuralgia symptoms.

Certain Movements

Specific movements involving the head or neck can trigger pain. Turning the head quickly, bending over, or other sudden movements can activate the trigeminal nerve and cause pain.

Identifying and avoiding these triggers can be crucial in managing trigeminal neuralgia. Keeping a pain diary to record activities and conditions that lead to pain episodes can help pinpoint specific triggers.

Benefits of Acupuncture for Trigeminal Neuralgia

Acupuncture, one of the main healing practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine, involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissues. This stimulation can stop pain and activate a healing response. Acupuncture is increasingly becoming the therapy of choice for people with trigeminal neuralgia to find lasting relief from nerve pain. Here are some of the benefits of acupuncture for trigeminal neuralgia:

Pain Relief

Acupuncture triggers the release of endorphins and endogenous opioids, the body's natural painkillers. These chemicals can help reduce the perception of pain. By stimulating specific points, acupuncture can modulate pain signals in the nervous system, leading to a long lasting decrease in pain sensations and pain sensitivity.

Improved Blood Flow

Acupuncture can increase blood circulation in the neck, head, face and jaw. Better blood flow can help alleviate pressure on the trigeminal nerve, and provide better nutrients and waste disposal for the affected tissues, allowing the trigeminal nerve to heal.

Reduced Inflammation

Acupuncture regulates the immune response, making it one of the most powerful ways to naturally reduce inflammation. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals whose trigeminal neuralgia is linked to autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis.

Healing Damaged Nerves

Acupuncture has been shown to regenerate damaged nerves and stimulate remodeling of the nervous system. It has also been shown to promote better nerve signaling, improving the functioning of the trigeminal nerve.

Reduction of Muscle Tension

Acupuncture can help relax tense muscles in the face and jaw. Relaxed muscles can decrease pressure on the trigeminal nerve, potentially reducing the frequency and intensity of pain episodes.

Stress Reduction

Acupuncture can help reduce stress and anxiety, which are common in people with chronic pain conditions like trigeminal neuralgia. Lower stress levels can help reduce muscle tension and improve overall well-being, making it easier to cope with pain.

Benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine for Trigeminal Neuralgia

The benefits of acupuncture for trigeminal neuralgia are significantly enhanced by combining it with Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses a variety of botanical formulas to treat disease and improve overall health. For conditions like trigeminal neuralgia, botanical ingredients are combined in order to address various aspects of the nervous system, immune system, and circulatory system. By carefully selecting and combining herbs, practitioners of CHM can create personalized treatments that target the specific needs of each patient. Some of the benefits of TCM for trigeminal neuralgia include:

Pain Relief

TCM herbs like corydalis (Yan Hu Suo 延胡索) and cinnamon (Gui Zhi 桂枝) can help reduce neuralgia pain by influencing the body’s pain pathways and regulating pain signals.

Anti-inflammatory Effects

Many herbs used in TCM have anti-inflammatory properties. Herbs such as angelica dahurcia (Bai Zhi 白芷) and scutellaria (Huang Qin 黄芩) can reduce inflammation around the trigeminal nerve, which can alleviate pressure and pain.

Improved Blood Circulation

TCM can enhance blood flow in the head, face, and jaw. Herbs like Cnidium (Chuan Xiong 川芎) and Safflower (Hong Hua 紅花) can promote better blood circulation, helping to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the nerves and reduce pain.

Muscle Relaxation

Some herbs help relax tense muscles that might be contributing to nerve compression. TCM herbs such as Peony (Bai Shao 白芍) and Chinese Licorice (Gan Cao 甘草) can ease muscle tension, reducing the strain on the trigeminal nerve.

Stress Reduction

TCM can help manage stress, which can exacerbate pain. Herbs like Ginseng  (Ren Shen 人参) and Schisandra (Wu Wei Zi 五味子) have adaptogenic properties, helping the body to cope with stress and lowering pain levels.

Nerve Nourishment

Certain herbs can support nerve health and function. Herbs such as acorus (Shi Chang Pu 石菖蒲) and Polygala (Yuan Zhi 元志) are known for their neuroprotective effects, helping to maintain healthy nerve function and repair damaged nerves.

Immune System Modulation

Traditional Chinese Medicine can help regulate the immune system, which is beneficial for those whose trigeminal neuralgia is related to autoimmune conditions. Herbs like Astragalus (Huang Qi 黄芪) and Rheumania (Di Huang 地黃) can enhance immune function and reduce autoimmunity, thereby decreasing inflammation and nerve irritation.

Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments are typically personalized to the individual. A licensed practitioner will conduct a thorough evaluation, considering factors such as the patient's overall health, specific symptoms, and underlying causes of their trigeminal neuralgia. Based on this assessment, the practitioner will create a custom herbal formula, which might be taken as teas, powders, capsules, or tinctures. The combination and dosage of herbs are tailored to address both the symptoms and root causes of the condition.

While TCM can offer significant benefits, it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new treatment. TCM should be administered by a qualified practitioner to ensure the correct identification of herbs and appropriate dosages.

Holistic Lifestyle Changes to Help with Trigeminal Neuralgia

Implementing these lifestyle changes can provide a holistic approach to managing trigeminal neuralgia:

Stress Management Techniques

Stress can exacerbate trigeminal neuralgia symptoms by increasing muscle tension and inflammation. Practicing stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and mindfulness can help reduce stress levels, which may decrease the frequency and intensity of pain episodes. These techniques promote relaxation and overall mental well-being.

Regular Exercise

Engaging in regular physical activity helps improve blood circulation and reduces stress. Low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, and tai chi chuan can increase endorphin levels, which are natural pain relievers. Exercise also promotes general health and helps maintain a healthy weight, reducing the strain on the body and potentially alleviating pain.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

A balanced diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce inflammation and support overall health. Foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats (such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and flaxseeds) can help manage inflammation. Avoiding processed foods, sugar, and excessive caffeine can also help reduce triggers for pain episodes.

Adequate Hydration

Staying hydrated is essential for overall health and can help maintain nerve function. Drinking enough water daily helps keep the body’s systems functioning optimally, which can aid in reducing the frequency and severity of pain. Proper hydration also supports circulation and the delivery of nutrients to nerves and tissues.

Warm Compresses

Applying warmth to the affected area can help relax muscles and soothe pain. Using a warm compress or heating pad on the painful areas of the face can provide temporary relief by increasing blood flow and reducing muscle tension around the trigeminal nerve.

Good Sleep Hygiene

Quality sleep is crucial for overall health and pain management. Establishing a regular sleep routine and creating a restful sleep environment can improve sleep quality. Adequate rest helps the body heal and can reduce the perception of pain, making it easier to manage daily activities.

Avoiding Triggers

Identifying and avoiding specific triggers that provoke pain can help manage symptoms. Keeping a pain diary to track triggers can help individuals avoid these stimuli and reduce the frequency of painful episodes.

Gentle Facial Exercises

Gentle exercises can help maintain facial muscle strength and flexibility. Simple facial exercises and massages can improve circulation and reduce muscle tension. This can help prevent stiffness and alleviate discomfort associated with trigeminal neuralgia.

While these strategies can help reduce symptoms, it’s essential to work with healthcare providers to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to individual needs. Combining lifestyle changes with medical treatments such as acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can offer the best chances for managing and alleviating the pain associated with trigeminal neuralgia.

Treat Trigeminal Neuralgia with Natural Medicines

As we’ve explored, trigeminal neuralgia can be a challenging and painful condition, but there is hope. Understanding the causes and triggers of this disorder is the first step toward managing it effectively. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offer promising relief for trigeminal neuralgia, addressing not only the symptoms but also the root causes of the condition. Incorporating holistic lifestyle changes can further enhance your well-being and reduce the frequency and intensity of flare-ups.

Acupuncture for trigeminal neuralgia has shown significant benefits, including pain reduction, improved nerve function, and overall enhanced quality of life. At Empowered You Acupuncture, we specialize in treating trigeminal neuralgia, chronic facial pain, and other neurological conditions. Our team, led by Erica Yang, MTOM, L.Ac, and Dr. Joshua Park, DSOM, L.Ac, are dedicated practitioners with extensive experience in managing nerve damage and providing personalized care.

If you're ready to explore acupuncture for trigeminal neuralgia and take the first step towards a pain-free life, schedule a consultation with Empowered You Acupuncture today. Let our expertise and compassionate care guide you on your journey to wellness.

Empower yourself with the healing power of acupuncture. Contact us now to book your appointment and discover the transformative benefits of holistic treatment for trigeminal neuralgia.


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