Imagine that things as simple as talking, chewing, smiling or feeling the wind brush against your cheek cause searing facial pain. You can’t live in the formerly carefree way you used to- chewing crusty bread or laughing with friends trigger pain that is so severe, you just avoid those activities altogether. Sounds pretty awful, right? For patients with Trigeminal Neuralgia, this describes everyday life.
What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?
Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN) is a pain condition that involves the Trigeminal Nerve, which has three branches: to the upper, middle and lower areas of the face. TN normally affects either the right or left side of the face and is most commonly caused by a blood vessel pressing on some part of the nerve, irritating it and causing pain signals to fire. The pain can come in short waves that last 5 seconds to a few minutes, or more rarely it can be a constant burning or stabbing pain. The Facial Pain Association states that it’s “considered to be one of the most painful afflictions known to medical practice”.
TN can be a tricky diagnosis to make- there is a good amount of overlap in symptoms with other facial pain conditions. For example, similar to TMJ pain, many TN patients to clench their teeth together and have lots of muscular tension through the jaw and face. Like migraine sufferers, TN patients can have burning, stabbing pain that’s completely debilitating and comes and goes.
If you’re having this type of pain, it’s very important to do your research and go to your medical appointments as informed as possible since misdiagnosis is quite common with TN. A lot of patients with TN are told they have a dental condition, TMJ (Temporomandibular Jaw Disorder), migraines or postherpetic neuralgia. Being misdiagnosed often leads to a delay in proper treatment.
How Does Acupuncture Help With Trigeminal Neuralgia?
I’ve seen a wide variety of TN sufferers in my clinic- and each required a slightly different treatment approach. For example, one patient in her 60’s responded best to having acupuncture at several points on her face. More recently, I had a patient in her mid-30’s who saw rapid improvement using only points at the neck, shoulders and ankles. Normally I start with distal points (those which aren’t actually on the face), but if there’s no improvement after 1-2 sessions adding a few gentle facial points can make a huge difference.
At first, each of these women came for treatment between 2-3 times per week, but as they improved, we gradually reduced the frequency until once a month was enough to very effectively manage the pain. You should notice some change after only 3-4 sessions. If not, either another approach or another type of pain management therapy may be more effective.
Each acupuncture session lasts about 45 minutes, with the needles actually remaining for about 30 minutes. Patients almost universally report acupuncture is a relaxing experience, and many times will fall asleep during the session!
While I always needle points for pain management, it’s vital to address your unique presentation as well. I take a holistic approach- diet, stress reduction, and improving any other areas of health that need attention such as sleep, digestion, energy can really help. Vitamins, supplements and Chinese Herbal formulas are a few of the other tools we have to work with.
My patient A. had this to say about her experience with acupuncture:
“I had no idea how much Acupuncture would help both my physical and mental health. It has changed my life 100%. I was suffering from severe Trigeminal Neuralgia (a chronic pain disorder that affects the trigeminal nerve) and resulted in extreme intense facial pain all day long. I was on the verge of tears and feeling that a cure was hopeless after numerous visits to my dentist, an oral surgeon, and an ENT doctor.
A friend recommended acupuncture. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was open to try anything. Even after my first session with Susan, I felt pain relief!!! It was incredible. After three sessions, my pain had decreased at least 50% if not more. I can happily say working with her has cured my TN completely and I have been pain free for several months now. I am so happy that I found Susan and her practice. She has a wonderful healing personality and really takes your entire physical/mental health into consideration. I urge anyone suffering from TN to reach out to her. Her treatment is the best thing that I have done for my health. Coworkers, friends and family all notice a huge difference in my personality and physical state. Thank you so much, Susan.”
I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to help patients like A. When you’re in chronic pain, it affects work, relationships and your ability to see yourself as a strong, healthy and capable person. There are a lot of options for sufferers of TN, and no one option can fix everyone. But if you’re interested in trying out something that doesn’t involve medication or surgery, or simply haven’t found relief with the usual treatments, I absolutely encourage you to consider acupuncture.
If you’re in the NYC area, I’d love to see you- just click “Appointments” and fill out the contact form on the right side of the page to get in touch.