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What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN) is facial pain that is experienced around the jaw area. Patients usually describe their symptoms as sharp, shooting pains that can last for a few seconds or minutes, or occasionally for days and even months.

TN pain is generally felt over one side of the face, or sometimes on the opposite side, but not on both sides simultaneously. Episodes of pain can occur at any time of the day and can be extremely debilitating for people who suffer from these symptoms.

What’s the cause of Trigeminal Neuralgia?

TN is caused when the trigeminal nerve is compressed, which is a nerve that is responsible providing sensation to areas of the face.

The nerve itself has three different branches- mandibular, ophthalmic and maxillary– the first two branches are just responsible for detecting sensation, while the latter branch also plays a role in providing movement (motor) stimulus.    

The exact causes of trigeminal nerve compression are still poorly misunderstood, with multiple theories existing into potential explanations of the origin of the condition.

Recent research suggests that compression may occur upon veins or arteries situated at the base of the brain, while others state that jaw position can play a major role in irritation to the nerve.

Further causes may be attributed to the presence of soft-tissue growths and Multiple Sclerosis, whereas many cases are considered to be idiopathic in nature (ie with nil known cause).   

Who’s affected?

TN is not regarded as a common condition, with recent research suggesting that around 10 in every 100,000 people are affected within the UK population every year.

TN affects women more than men, with symptoms often commonly experienced on the dominant side of those affected. While a proportion of younger individuals can develop symptoms of TN, it is most commonly experienced in individuals over the age of 50, with children rarely affected.  

People who suffer from Multiple Sclerosis or high blood pressure also have increased chances of developing the condition.

How is it diagnosed?

It is common for patients to report the early signs of Trigeminal Neuralgia to their dentist before any other healthcare professional, due to the symptoms being perceived in the jaw region.

If, upon inspection, it is determined that symptoms are not derived from dental issues then patients are usually referred to their GP for assessment.

Usually diagnosis of TN is made by ruling out other conditions, such as nerve injuries, migraines and circulatory issues. In some cases, confirmatory scans may be required to identify the presence of TN and absence of any other issues.

Is there any treatment?

There are plenty of options in terms of treatment.

Suitable pain relief will usually be prescribed by your GP in order to control symptoms, while physiotherapy has also demonstrated good results for TN.

A detailed assessment will allow your physiotherapist to determine the likely factors that are contributing to your symptoms and specific hand-on techniques may be applied to help to resolve these issues.  

In some case’s surgery may be performed to attempt to reduce compression upon the trigeminal nerve, however this will typically only be considered following attempting conservative management as detailed above.

If you suspect that you may be suffering from Trigeminal Neuralgia, or have any queries regarding other matters, then please do not hesitate to contact our team on 0330 088 7700 or by visiting physio.co.uk.