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Wenche Chung, MD & Kuoting Lee, L.Ac

Have you felt a sharp, shooting, and instant pain in your jaw or cheeks and need to know everything about it? You are at the right place!

A kind of nerve pain or neuropathy that tends to affect your nerves in the face causes Trigeminal Neuralgia. It leads to intense facial pain, which can go within seconds and last for hours.

What Actually is TMJ and Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders are caused by the complications that occur in affecting surrounding ligaments and muscles of the jaw joints. Arthritis, jaw pain, an improper bite, and trauma are the causes of TMJ. The indications of these disorders may include jaw pain, earaches, shoulder pain, headaches, difficulty chewing, tinnitus, tooth pain, facial swelling, or face fatigue. TMJ almost shares similar symptoms as Trigeminal neuralgia.

A chronic pain disorder, Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN), also known as tic douloureux or prosoplasia, is linked to the trigeminal nerve, which may affect your lower and upper jaws, cheek, or eyes and leads to severe neuropathic pain. An unusual unilateral, brief, sudden, and stabbing pain in the distribution of  one or more branches of the fifth cranial nerve is Trigeminal Neuralgia, according to the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). The trigeminal nerve associated with TN is responsible for sending signals to the brain from the pain regarding temperature and pressure sensations. This pain might seem like dental pain or a sudden electric shock to you due to its burning, stabbing, and excruciating impact. You must want to know what causes and triggers trigeminal neuralgia. Here are the causes and triggers of trigeminal neuralgia.

What Causes and Triggers Trigeminal Neuralgia?

The most vulnerable population affected by trigeminal neuralgia are women, specifically those over 50. Basically, the compression of the trigeminal nerve leads to trigeminal neuralgia. The trigeminal nerve that transmits pain or touch sensations is compressed due to nearby blood vessels pressing on the part of the nerve inside the skull. Other medical conditions, including multiple sclerosis (MS) or tumor, also tends to damage the trigeminal nerve, leading to trigeminal neuralgia. Sometimes, after a dental procedure, unlucky people experience trigeminal neuralgia.

Trigeminal neuralgia pain can be triggered due to various things, including brushing your teeth, shaving facial hair, scrubbing your face, smiling, talking, screaming, laughing, drinking cold or hot, eating spicy, and even putting on makeup, can also induce trigeminal neuralgia pain. It might not be life-threatening but lead to poor life quality and need instant and efficient treatment. You must have heard that every problem comes with a solution. So, in the case of Trigeminal Neuralgia, TCM and acupuncture treatment is what you need to get rid of the intense pain. But the question is, what is the reality of acupuncture that has the ability to treat even this kind of intense pain?

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture, a branch of conventional Chinese medicine, has a rich history of relieving pain and assisting in different diseases. Acupuncture is highly effective to improve the conditions like TMJ or trigeminal neuralgia, and the plus point of this treatment is it has no adverse effects. It has been around 3000 years since acupuncture is considered an effective and safe method for pain relief.

It inserts hair-like thin needles into the part of the body that is aching, which gives an anti-inflammatory effect to alleviate pain. Different patients require different treatments, and not all patients can get relief only through needles. Some require a more involved technique known as electro-acupuncture, also called percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or PENS. It has been analyzed that electro-acupuncture works in an efficacious manner for patients with severe pain. A limited number of sessions may provide satisfactory outcomes for those who have mild or moderate pain issues. However, those undergoing intense Trigeminal neuralgia require more advances and ongoing acupuncture.

How does Acupuncture Specifically Work for Trigeminal Neuralgia and TMJ?

According to the TCM perspective, the root causes of the same problem can be different for every individual. It is necessary for acupuncturists to listen to their patients carefully and understand the underlying problem causing trigeminal neuralgia and TMJ. Most of the time, in trigeminal neuralgia cases, the cause is associated with stomach meridian blockage. It extends to the facial regions similar to the trigeminal nerve.

Studies have shown that both manual and electro-acupuncture have shown significant effects to stimulate pain points in the body. It eventually helps in unblocking the flow of qi to relieve pain caused by trigeminal neuralgia. According to physiological researchers, it is more likely to stimulate the modifications in the nervous system, specifically assisting in pain inhibitory pathways. Acupuncture impacts the disease as a natural analgesic to alleviate pain. It impacts nerve cells’ way of transmitting the signals of pain and is more likely to activate the opioid receptors in the brain. In addition to this treatment, Qi can be strengthened by using Chinese herbs that also assist with rejuvenating nerve cells.

 

What does Science Suggest about Acupuncture Treating Trigeminal Neuralgia Pain and TMJ?

Research has shown that acupuncture showed effective outcomes to treat trigeminal neuralgia and TMJ compared to surgery or medication with minor side effects. It is not just effective in treating but also cost-effective over surgeries or other alternative medications. Other medications given to treat it include oxcarbazepine and carbamazepine, which contain severe adverse effects such as dizziness, sedation, nausea, vomiting, retching, and ataxia. However, acupuncture has minor side effects that are only caused on the site of insertion when it’s done by un-professionals. A study took patients with an average of 10 years with trigeminal neuralgia. Among them, half were given the anticonvulsant medication Carbamazepine, and the other half were treated with acupuncture. The results indicated a significantly high rate of pain reduction by 90% among patients treated with acupuncture. Another case study suggested that a woman with trigeminal neuralgia suffered from pain for around 25 years and was treated with acupuncture for 6 weeks. She was free of pain even 6 months later.

Research also proves the benefits of acupuncture for TMJ disorder as the needles are inserted around the face, ear, and jaw. Your muscle spasms are reduced, and muscle relaxation is promoted by acupuncture. These needles are inserted around the trigger points of the lateral pterygoid, masseter, temporalis muscles, and medial pterygoid. Acupuncture tends to release endorphins (natural pain-relieving chemical) and relax muscles, which reduce the pain intensity caused by TMJ. The production of cortisol that assists in limiting body inflammation is increased by acupuncture, which eventually downregulates inflammation. Hence, it is one of the most effective ways to treat TMJ.

However, you still need efficient professionals and trained staff to treat TMJ and trigeminal neuralgia through acupuncture. Because untrained staff may cause complications at the site of insertion of needles. If you are the one suffering from trigeminal neuralgia and TMJ or your loved one undergoes these conditions, don’t worry! We got you.

Let us know your case history and get the best treatment ever.

By Dr. Kuoting Lee, LAc, DAIM

 

SOURCES

  • Cruccu, G. (2017). Trigeminal neuralgia. CONTINUUM: Lifelong Learning in Neurology23(2), 396-420.
  • Maarbjerg, S., Di Stefano, G., Bendtsen, L., & Cruccu, G. (2017). Trigeminal neuralgia–diagnosis and treatment. Cephalalgia37(7), 648-657.
  • Matsushima, T., Huynh-Le, P., & Miyazono, M. (2004). Trigeminal neuralgia caused by venous compression. Neurosurgery55(2), 334-339.
  • Yin, Z., Wang, F., Sun, M., Zhao, L., & Liang, F. (2022). Acupuncture methods for primary trigeminal neuralgia: a systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2022.
  • Ichida, M. C., Zemuner, M., Hosomi, J., Pai, H. J., Teixeira, M. J., de Siqueira, J. T. T., & de Siqueira, S. R. (2017). Acupuncture treatment for idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia: a longitudinal case-control double blinded study. Chinese journal of integrative medicine23(11), 829-836.
  • Manfredini, D., Segù, M., Arveda, N., Lombardo, L., Siciliani, G., Rossi, A., & Guarda-Nardini, L. (2016). Temporomandibular joint disorders in patients with different facial morphology. A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery74(1), 29-46.
  • Zhao, Q., He, G., Zhang, Z., & Li, Z. (2020). Efficacy and safety of acupuncture for trigeminal neuralgia: a protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine99(40).

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