Neck problems may cause trigeminal pain. Medication can mask the pain, but chiropractic adjustment of the neck can address the root cause of your trigeminal neuralgia.

Trigeminal neuralgia is a nervous system disorder that leads to severe head or neck pain that may feel like an electric shock on one side of your head (occasionally both sides). This debilitating pain can be triggered by eating, smiling, or even a strong breeze.

If you want help with your trigeminal neuralgia or other neck conditions, schedule your appointment with Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic today!

What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a painful condition where face pain or upper neck pain radiates from one, two, or all three branches of the trigeminal nerve — usually on one side of the face, but potentially on both sides.

This nervous system condition results in electric shock-like pain where the brainstem and the C1 vertebra (atlas) meet the fifth cranial nerve, also called the trigeminal nerve. Compression of this nerve leads to trigeminal pain.

The trigeminal nerve is a set of several branching cranial nerves each of which control various facial sensations:

  • Ophthalmic nerve (V1): eye, forehead, upper eyelid
  • Maxillary nerve (V2): lower eyelid, cheek, nostril, upper lip, upper gum
  • Mandibular nerve (V3): upper and lower jaw, lower lip, lower gum, certain chewing muscles

Trigeminal neuralgia is also known as:

Conventional doctors may prescribe medications to mask trigeminal facial pain. However, the side effects are numerous, the drug’s efficacy quickly wanes, and this treatment does nothing to address the root cause.

Chiropractors help treat the root cause of trigeminal neuralgia with precise spinal adjustments to actually reverse trigeminal neuralgia.

How Neck Problems Cause Trigeminal Neuralgia

Various neck problems can lead to trigeminal neuralgia (or other cranial neuralgias), including a compressed nerve due to spinal misalignment in the neck.

Non-neck problems which are common causes of TN include multiple sclerosis, blood vessel dysfunction, certain disorders which damage the nerve’s protective myelin sheath, tumors, or aging. These kinds of TN causes are unlikely to respond to chiropractic care, and should be treated with other methods.

If your TN is caused by a neck problem, it is likely to be one of the following. Let’s go over each in a little detail.

Compressed Nerve

There are multiple ways your trigeminal nerve could get compressed, leading to trigeminal neuralgia:

  • Upper cervical spine misalignment means the vertebrae may be compressing the nerve and result in trigeminal pain.
  • Irritated or abnormally-located blood vessels could compress a nerve in the neck area.
  • Spinal injury could lead to a compressed nerve and TN.

Either way, that compressed nerve will greatly impact your quality of life. Chiropractic neck adjustment should relieve the pressure on the compressed nerve and eliminate the root cause of your TN.

Cranial Instability

Trigeminal neuralgia can be caused by instability of the head, due to upper cervical spinal fracture or overstretching.

Cranial instability (or cervical instability) is when the neck vertebrae can move beyond their typical range of motion. Instability is often caused by ligaments becoming loose or too stretched out. It is sometimes the result of a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Cranial instability may irritate the trigeminal nerve since the head and upper neck are moving beyond their typical range of motion, increasing the chance of pinching that nerve and causing TN pain.

Decreased Flow of Cerebrospinal Fluid

Stasis of the cerebrospinal fluid can greatly impact your health and happens more frequently than many have believed. Misalignment is usually the cause for the decrease in flow rate. The Atlas acts like a pressure valve at the top. If your neck is misaligned, that can disrupt the normal flow. The fluid doesn’t slow on its own in the absence of a misalignment or other physical or physiological issue.

Cerebrospinal fluid is a complex substance which is fundamental to the nervous system’s proper functioning. This fluid, which circulates throughout your central nervous system, may be particularly vulnerable to stasis, or inactivity, in the spinal canal.

Reduction in the flow rate of cerebrospinal fluid may lead to:

  • Vertebral subluxation, potentially irritating the trigeminal nerve
  • Tension in the spinal cord
  • Limited function of lungs and respiratory system
  • Reduced cranial rhythm (natural expanding and contracting of the skull 8-14 times per minute)

Intracranial Hypertension

Excess pressure within the skull can lead to trigeminal pain. This can also be caused by decreased cerebrospinal fluid flow.

Intracranial hypertension (ICH) and TN seem to be connected, but researchers have concluded ICH could be an independent cause of TN.

Idiopathic intracranial hypertension is a build-up of pressure around the brain, which happens suddenly and without any identifiable cause.

You are more likely to experience ICH if you experience hypothyroidism or irregular red blood cell count. Women account for 19 out of 20 ICH patients.

Read more: TMJ vs. Trigeminal Neuralgia: How To Tell The Difference

Determining the Cause of Your Trigeminal Neuralgia

Identifying the root cause of your trigeminal neuralgia is critical to determining a precise treatment plan that works for you.

A doctor may diagnose whether you have TN by asking about pain triggers, identifying where on your head and neck the pain emanates, or possibly with an MRI.

To figure out the exact cause of your trigeminal neuralgia, your healthcare provider may inquire about your personal medical history — searching for times of head or neck injury, or perhaps a family history of certain conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

X-rays may be required to examine your upper spine for subluxations or other abnormalities that could be irritating the trigeminal nerve.

Treatment Options

There are several treatment methods for trigeminal neuralgia. Whereas conventional healthcare providers may prescribe medications to mask the pain, chiropractors aim to address the root cause and reverse your TN.

Chiropractic Care

Upper cervical chiropractors are highly qualified to address trigeminal neuralgia’s underlying causes and help reverse TN, instead of just masking the pain with expensive drugs that come with crazy side effects.

Chiropractic care can help with trigeminal neuralgia.

This connection makes sense since the trigeminal nerve travels through the upper cervical spine. Misalignment of the top two spinal vertebrae (atlas and axis) can compress the trigeminal nerve and cause TN. Chiropractors should be able to re-align those vertebrae and relieve the nerve.

We should note that not every type of TN will respond to chiropractic care. 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture can treat trigeminal neuralgia. Even though acupuncture likely doesn’t address the root cause of TN, it may be a superior alternative to conventional treatments.

This scientific review shows that acupuncture is safer, more effective, and less costly than drug-based or surgical treatment of TN.

Medication

Pharmaceuticals are the first-line trigeminal neuralgia treatment for most mainstream doctors. However, not only are the side effects an unnecessary risk, but these drugs don’t even address the root cause.

Conventional doctors may prescribe anticonvulsants or muscle relaxers to block TN pain. The primary treatment has been carbamazepine for decades, even though it is dangerous for many. This medication does not treat the root cause of TN, but it does mask the symptoms.

Gabapentin is another medication used to treat nerve pain attacks, such as trigeminal neuralgia. It also treats migraines, a related disorder to TN.

Moreover, your doctor may prescribe botox injections. Botulinum toxin A is an effective symptom masker for trigeminal neuralgia, with maximum efficacy “noticed between 6 weeks and 3 months after the procedure.” This should only be a last resort if other treatments aren’t working.

Surgical Procedures

There are a couple surgical procedures that may help bring trigeminal pain relief, including:

  • Microvascular decompression — During this surgery, the doctor will relocate or remove any blood vessels that may be irritating the trigeminal nerve. Side effects can include facial numbness, loss of hearing, or, in very rare cases, a stroke. This is a good option for people who haven’t responded to less invasive treatments and have MRI evidence that they’re a good candidate for surgery. However, many TN patients are not.
  • Rhizotomy — In this procedure, the surgeon destroys nerve fibers to dull trigeminal neuralgia pain. A rhizotomy can be achieved via a glycerol injection into your trigeminal nerve, balloon compression of the nerve, or radiofrequency thermal lesioning (heat damaging). Rhizotomy is recommended only as a last resort.
  • Neurectomy — In last-resort cases, a neurosurgeon may literally remove all or part of the trigeminal nerve to eliminate nerve pain signals. The partial or complete removal of any nerve is called a neurectomy.

Can Exercise Help to Relieve Trigeminal Neuralgia?

There are pros and cons to exercising for TN relief. On one hand, you risk triggering a TN episode. On the other hand, exercise is good for your overall health and even your neck health.

Benefits of exercise for trigeminal neuralgia relief include:

  • Exercise helps reduce stress and tension in your body.
  • Exercise releases endorphins, your body’s natural pain relievers.
  • There are plenty of low-impact exercises that are safer for TN patients, such as yoga or swimming.

Downsides to exercise with trigeminal neuralgia include:

  • Increasing heart rate may irritate blood vessels that compress the trigeminal nerve.
  • Any high-impact exercise may irritate your spine, neck, mouth, or face and risk triggering TN pain.

Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care in Denver

Chiropractic care is the only trigeminal neuralgia treatment which addresses the root cause of your pain. Instead of dulling the nerves, qualified chiropractors aim to empower your body’s natural healing processes with precise adjustments and lifestyle advice.

For safe, effective, root-cause treatment of trigeminal neuralgia or other neck pain disorders, try upper cervical chiropractic care. Our non-invasive treatments are based on scientific evidence and decades of helping real people like you to heal. Contact us online or call us at 303-955-8270. We reserve Fridays for traveling patients!

    1. Djavaherian, D. M., & Guthmiller, K. B. (2019). Occipital Neuralgia. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538281/
    2. Stall, R. S. (2013). Noninvasive pulsed radio frequency energy in the treatment of occipital neuralgia with chronic, debilitating headache: a report of four cases. Pain Medicine, 14(5), 628-638. Full text https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/14/5/628/1816050
    3. Mallory, M., Bauer, B., & Chon, T. (2019). Occipital Neuralgia Treated With Acupuncture: A Case Report. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 8, 2164956119890546. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6883661/
    4. Bond, B. M., & Kinslow, C. (2015). Improvement in clinical outcomes after dry needling in a patient with occipital neuralgia. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 59(2), 101. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4486992/
    5. Choi, I., & Jeon, S. R. (2016). Neuralgias of the head: occipital neuralgia. Journal of Korean Medical Science, 31(4), 479-488. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4810328/
    6. Meng, F., Peng, K., Yang, J. P., Ji, F. H., Xia, F., & Meng, X. W. (2018). Botulinum toxin-A for the treatment of neuralgia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Pain Research, 11, 2343. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6190814/
    7. Maroon, J. C., Bost, J. W., & Maroon, A. (2010). Natural anti-inflammatory agents for pain relief. Surgical Neurology International, 1. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3011108/