Is Trigeminal Neuralgia Related To The Neck?

It’s been called “the suicide disease”. The intense electrical shock type pain that can be brought on by the slightest of breezes, or just spontaneously, is enough to drive some people to take their own lives. It’s one of the worst pains a human can experience. Of the treatment options available (and there aren’t many) there is one that has a surprising success rate and it comes without the harsh side-effects that are associated with the other treatment options. 

What causes the wicked face pain with trigeminal neuralgia?

Most people that suffer from trigeminal neuralgia only get it on one side of their face. That’s because you have two bundles of nerves on each side of your face….they’re called the left and right trigeminal nucleus. Each nucleus has three clusters of nerves (hence… “tri”) that spread across your face allowing you to feel things that touch your face. When something disrupts the function of one of the nerves or presses against one of the nerves then it fires off unexpectedly and bam… you feel like you got smacked in the face, but there’s no smack – just the pain. 

What are the treatment options?

Sometimes the thing affecting the function of the nerve is a tumor and blood vessel, so an MRI can be helpful in ruling in or out these more obvious causes. If the medical doctor doesn’t see an obvious cause then they recommend medication. If the doctor does see the tumor or blood vessel responsible for the problem then surgery is recommended.  

Surgery can be tricky though because the trigeminal nuclei are inside your skull close to your brain stem. One of the surgical options is microvascular decompression where the surgeon makes a small hole in your skull behind your ear and then attempts to move any blood vessels away from the nerve. Or they might just cut some of the nucleus out if they can’t find the blood vessel. 

The other surgical option is brain stereotactic radiosurgery (Gamma knife) where the doctor focuses a narrow beam of radiation of the trigeminal nucleus in hopes of damaging it just enough so it stops transmitting pain signals. 

The medication options include anticonvulsants, antispasmodic, and botox injections. Each approach has mixed results and they all have unpleasant side-effects. 

And then there’s this treatment option… that focuses on the upper neck. 

There is a unique and powerful connection between the upper neck, trigeminal nuclei, and the brain stem. When the bones in the upper neck get out of alignment (and the upper neck is the most vulnerable part of the spine for alignment problems) it causes a big disturbance in the function of the brainstem and the nerve nuclei that are connected to it… like the trigeminal nuclei! And even more than that, the upper neck area has nerve connections directly to the lower part of the trigeminal nuclei – the pars caudalis. 

So when an upper cervical chiropractor is able to make a precise adjustment to the upper neck it can restore normal brainstem and trigeminal nuclei function and resolve the pain cycle. These highly trained chiropractors are specialists in the upper neck – that’s the only area they work on. They use objective instruments to measure nervous system function (see before and after treatment thermography scans below) to know when there’s a problem and when it’s been corrected. They also use x-rays to figure out exactly how to adjust the upper neck. 

Here’s what the results can look like…

And knowing when to adjust and how affect the adjustment was is determined by using infrared thermography scans. Wavy lines indicate a problem and straighter lines indicate normal function. 

Before the adjustment to the upper neck…

After the adjustment to the upper neck…

Here are some published case studies and preliminary research with trigeminal neuralgia and upper cervical chiropractic:

Hinson R. Upper Cervical Neurology and Trigeminal Neuralgia. 16th Annual Upper Cervical Spine Conference, Life University, Marietta, GA, November 20-21, 1999.

Hinson R. A Model of Cervical Spine Involvement in Trigeminal Neuralgia. Annual Meeting of the Society of Neurosciences, New Orleans, LA, November 2000.

Hinson R. Chiropractic Management of Trigeminal Neuralgia: Outcomes for Pain and Depression. 6th Biennial Congress of the World Federation of Chiropractic, Paris, France, May 21-26, 2001.

Hinson R, Brown S. Chiropractic Management of Trigeminal Neuralgia: A Preliminary Study. 130th Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, November 11, 2002.

Hinson R. Chiropractic Management of Facial Pain. 4th Biannual Conference of the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association. San Diego, CA, November 2002.

Ierano JJ. Upper Cervical Chiropractic Management of Trigeminal Neuralgia: A Series of Case Reports. 8th Biennial Congress of the World Federation of Chiropractic, Sydney, Australia, June 14-18, 2005.

Burcon MT. Resolution of Trigeminal Neuralgia Following Chiropractic Care to Reduce Cervical Spine Vertebral Subluxations: A Case Study. J Vertebral Subluxation Res, October 26, 2009:1-7.

Bowler B, Conlen K. Retracing: A Case Study of How Early Life Dis-Ease Becomes Complex Adult Health Issues. 8th Annual International Research and Philosophy Symposium, Sherman College of Chiropractic Spartanburg, South Carolina, October 22-23, 2011.

Sweat M, Wallace SS. Resolution of Trigeminal Neuralgia in a Patient Undergoing Atlas Orthogonal Chiropractic Care: A Case Report. J Upper Cervical Chiropr Res, May 31, 2012:46-54.

Kessinger R, Matthews A. Resolution of Trigeminal Neuralgia in a 14 Year Old Following Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care to Reduce Vertebral Subluxation: A Case Study. J Upper Cervical Chiropr Res, August 30, 2012:77-84.

Burcon M, Pero J. Resolution of Glossopharyngeal Neuralgia & Spastic Dystonia Following Chiropractic Care to Reduce Upper Cervical Vertebral Subluxation: A Case Study. J Upper Cervical Chiropr Res, January 6, 2014:7-13.

Sweat M, McDowell B. Reduction of Trigeminal Neuralgia Symptoms Following Atlas Orthogonal Chiropractic Care: A Case Report. J Upper Cervical Chiropr Res, June 23, 2014:34-41.

Flory T, Chung J, Ozner J. Resolution of Facial Neuralgia Following Reduction of Atlas Subluxation Complex: A Case Study. J Upper Cervical Chiropr Res, February 23, 2015:6-13.

Friedman A. Resolution of Trigeminal Neuralgia Following Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care Using Quantum Spinal Mechanics 3 (QSM3). J Upper Cervical Chiropr Res, November 14, 2016:44-52.

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