WHAT DO OUR PATIENTS THINK?
“I have been visiting Acupuncture West London Clinic under the guidance of Ben since August 22 due to suffering with Trigeminal Neuralgia Type A for the past 2 1/2 years and having undergone a number of procedures including radiotherapy all of which were unsuccessful and I now have been advised that this is a condition that will remain with me for the life.
I will be honest, at first I was sceptical having never used acupuncture before however any assistance with the pain I would take my chances. Ben took his time in managing my condition, carefully listening to my symptom’s and how I generally felt at the time while explaining how acupuncture can help and I can honestly say that within 6-8 sessions I felt a vast improvement and 6 months on I am now able to managing my pain due to regular visits with Ben while having a much improved quality of life, and those who suffer from this condition will relate to this.
100% highly recommend Ben and his Clinic for those sufferers with Trigeminal Neuralgia or any other pain related injuries.
Thank you Ben for all you have done and continue to do for me.”DM, London
Acupuncture for Trigeminal Neuralgia
Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a debilitating neurological condition characterised by intense facial pain. The trigeminal nerve, responsible for transmitting sensory information from the face to the brain, becomes hypersensitive, resulting in severe, sudden, and recurring facial pain. The condition can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, causing difficulty with everyday activities such as eating, speaking, and even smiling. While traditional treatments like medication and surgery are frequently used, alternative therapies such as acupuncture are gaining attention for their potential effectiveness in managing TN symptoms. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of TN and explore how acupuncture may offer relief.
Understanding Trigeminal Neuralgia:
The trigeminal nerve, also known as the fifth cranial nerve, is responsible for providing sensation to the face. It consists of three branches: the ophthalmic nerve (V1), the maxillary nerve (V2), and the mandibular nerve (V3). When the trigeminal nerve is affected by conditions such as demyelination, compression, or irritation, it can result in TN.
The hallmark symptom of TN is severe facial pain, typically triggered by simple actions like eating, talking, or even a light touch to the face. The pain episodes are usually brief but can be excruciating—often described as sharp, electric shocks or stabbing sensations. The condition can lead to considerable distress and significantly impact a person’s mental and emotional well-being.
Why Does Trigeminal Neuralgia Occur?
TN occurs due to the irritation or compression of the trigeminal nerve and can be attributed to various underlying causes. The exact cause of TN is not always clear, but the following factors are commonly associated with its occurrence:
- Compression of the Trigeminal Nerve: The most common cause of TN is believed to be trigeminal nerve compression by nearby blood vessels. As the blood vessels come into contact with the nerve, they can exert pressure on it, leading to irritation and the development of neuralgia symptoms.
- Multiple Sclerosis: TN can occur as a result of multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the CNS. In MS, damage to the protective covering of nerve fibres (myelin) can affect the trigeminal nerve, leading to neuralgia symptoms.
- Nerve Damage or Injury: Previous trauma or damage to the trigeminal nerve can result in TN; for example, facial injuries, surgeries or other medical procedures involving the face or skull.
- Tumours or Lesions: Tumours or abnormal growths near the trigeminal nerve can pressure the nerve fibres, leading to neuralgia symptoms. These growths can be benign or malignant and may require medical intervention to alleviate the compression.
- Blood Vessel Abnormalities: In some cases, abnormalities in blood vessels, such as arteriovenous malformations or arteriovenous fistulas, can compress the trigeminal nerve and cause neuralgia symptoms.
- Idiopathic Trigeminal Neuralgia: In many cases, the cause of TN remains unknown. Idiopathic TN occurs when no specific underlying cause can be identified.
It is important to note that TN can affect anyone but is more common in individuals over 50. Women are slightly more prone to develop the condition than men.
Acupuncture for Trigeminal Neuralgia:
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves the insertion of thin needles at specific points on the body. It aims to stimulate the body’s natural healing mechanisms and restore balance within its energy pathways, known as channels or meridians. While the exact mechanisms behind acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating TN are not fully understood from a Western medicine (WM) standpoint, several theories propose potential explanations:
- Pain Modulation: Acupuncture is thought to stimulate the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters that help alleviate pain. Targeting specific acupuncture points for pain relief may help regulate the overactive pain signals associated with TN.
- Neural Pathway Regulation: Acupuncture’s impact on the central nervous system (CNS) suggests that it may influence neural pathways and reduce the transmission of pain signals from the trigeminal nerve to the brain. This modulation of neural activity may help disrupt the cycle of pain associated with TN.
- Muscle Relaxation: Acupuncture has been observed to induce muscle relaxation and decrease muscle tension. In TN, muscle spasms can contribute to the triggering of pain episodes. By promoting muscle relaxation, acupuncture may help prevent or alleviate these spasms, thus reducing pain frequency and intensity.
The Research and Evidence:
While further research is needed to establish acupuncture as a definitive treatment for TN, studies have shown promising results. For example:
- A study by Ischida et al. (2019) published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine examined the effects of acupuncture in treating TN. Researchers concluded that acupuncture has potential as an adjunctive therapy due to its analgesic effect for TN and any associated secondary myofascial pain.
- A study by Edwards et al. (2020) concluded that acupuncture appears more effective and safer than pharmacotherapy or surgical intervention. In addition, it appears to be the least expensive therapeutic modality to deliver long-term results (65 weeks onwards) and is less stressful to patients than pharmacotherapy or surgery.
- A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis by Ang et al. (2023) published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice explored the use of acupuncture in TN and found that acupuncture may provide significant pain relief and improve the overall quality of life for the participants.
Diagnosing Trigeminal Neuralgia—East vs West:
Whether we are looking through the lens of Western or Chinese medicine, diagnosing the underlying cause of TN is crucial in determining the most appropriate treatment approach and managing the condition effectively. Medical professionals typically rely on a combination of clinical evaluations, medical history assessments, imaging tests (such as magnetic resonance imaging or MRI), and sometimes nerve conduction studies to identify the cause and tailor the treatment plan accordingly.
Chinese medicine views TN as a manifestation of potentially several underlying imbalances or patterns—all unique to the individual. A practitioner can diagnose these patterns by carefully observing the patient’s symptoms, pulse, tongue, and overall constitution or medical history. Within CM, the following patterns are commonly associated with TN:
- Liver Qi Stagnation: According to CM, emotional factors such as stress, frustration, or repressed anger can lead to the stagnation of Qi in the liver meridian. This stagnant Qi can affect the flow of energy to the face, resulting in facial pain, headaches and other symptoms of TN.
- Liver Wind, Internal Wind or Liver Wind-Heat: In CM, internal wind refers to a dynamic and pathological pattern characterised by excessive movement and agitation of Qi and blood within the body. It can be an underlying factor in various health conditions, including TN. Internal wind is often associated with imbalances in the liver and can be triggered by factors such as emotional stress, long-standing liver imbalances, or other internal disharmonies. When internal wind arises, it can affect the smooth flow of Qi and blood, generate heat (i.e. inflammation) and lead to symptoms such as tremors, spasms, dizziness, and, more specifically, in the case of TN, facial pain.
- Blood Stasis: Blood stasis refers to the stagnation or poor circulation of blood in the body. In TN, blood stasis may occur due to trauma, injury, or channel blockages. This stagnant blood can trigger pain and discomfort in the face, with the primary symptom of blood stasis being acute stabbing pain.
- Kidney Deficiency: The kidneys in CM are considered the foundation of vitality and play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the nervous system. Kidney deficiency, particularly of the yin aspect, may lead to insufficient nourishment of the nerves, resulting in facial pain and neuralgia symptoms.
- Phlegm-Dampness: The accumulation of phlegm-dampness in the body can obstruct the flow of Qi and blood, leading to pain and discomfort. CM may consider the presence of phlegm-dampness as a contributing factor in TN cases.
Treatment of Trigeminal Neuralgia—East vs West:
Within WM, medicines like Neurontin and Topamax can help disrupt the nerve signals that are causing the pain. However, the side effects of these medications can be profound and may include dizziness, trouble concentrating or remembering things, drowsiness, headaches, vision problems, and nausea.
Treatment in CM aims to restore the balance and harmony of Qi and blood within the body. Acupuncture, dietary adjustments and lifestyle recommendations are commonly used in CM’s management of TN. Acupuncture is often employed to regulate the flow of Qi and blood and alleviate pain. Dietary modifications, stress reduction techniques, and gentle exercises like Qi Gong may also help support the body’s natural healing processes.
- Acupuncture: Specific acupuncture points are selected to regulate and harmonise the flow of Qi and blood, calm the liver, and disperse internal wind. Acupuncture treatments are always customised based on the individual’s pattern diagnosis.
- Dietary Adjustments: A CM practitioner may recommend dietary modifications that help support liver health and reduce inflammation. Recommendations may involve avoiding spicy, greasy, and processed foods while incorporating cooling and nourishing foods.
- Stress Reduction Techniques: Techniques like mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and gentle physical activities like Tai Chi or Qi Gong can help reduce emotional stress and promote relaxation.
It is important to remember that working with a qualified and licensed practitioner is essential to accurately diagnose a patient’s specific issue and develop a personalised treatment plan that addresses the underlying imbalances that have contributed to the onset of TN. To do so, the practitioner will conduct a thorough assessment, taking into consideration the individual’s specific symptoms and medical history. Remember, acupuncture can complement conventional medical care, but consulting with healthcare professionals and integrating both approaches to comprehensively manage the condition is crucial.
Can acupuncture help me?
There is much high-quality research suggesting that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of pain.
For the most up-to-date research and evidence on the efficacy of acupuncture, please visit the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) website.
WHAT DO OUR PATIENTS THINK?
“I cannot recommend Ben highly enough. I went to see him in desperation for a facial nerve problem that was very debilitating. He managed to totally clear the problem in just a few visits. Ben is very professional and knowledgeable and I won’t hesitate to seek his help for any further problems!”SG, London
“I was traveling around Europe recently and developed something called trigeminal neuralgia , the pain was sharp and constant and preventing me from enjoying my long awaited holiday . I began a treatment of acupuncture with Ben Corrigan and I felt the benefits straight away , with consultations 2 or 3 days apart to begin with . Ben explained every step of the treatment in a very eloquent and reassuring manner , he had a clear plan of action and was confident he would be able to help me . I can’t speak highly enough of Ben’s competence in acupuncture and I am pleased to say that in just over 2 weeks he helped me get better, end the pain and get my energy level back to where it was. I am so grateful to his knowledge and his practice as I had seen other specialists previously who didn’t give me any results . Thanks Ben , you deserve a 5 star review.”SD, Australia
- Edwards JW, Shaw V. Acupuncture in the management of trigeminal neuralgia. Acupuncture in Medicine. 2021;39(3):192-199. doi:10.1177/0964528420924042
- Ichida, M.C., Zemuner, M., Hosomi, J. et al. Acupuncture treatment for idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia: A longitudinal case-control double blinded study. Chin. J. Integr. Med. 23, 829–836 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11655-017-2786-0
- Lin Ang, Hee-Jung Kim, Jeong-Weon Heo, Tae-Young Choi, Hye Won Lee, Jong-In Kim, Myeong Soo Lee, Acupuncture for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Volume 52, 2023, 101763, ISSN 1744-3881, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2023.101763 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1744388123000440)