Exercises To Relieve Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a painful, reoccurring type of neuropathic pain in the facial region. Exercise has been shown to alleviate trigeminal pain in humans and animals, most likely by reducing inflammation and massaging the trigeminal nerve. This article will discuss the evidence for exercise to manage trigeminal neuralgia and suggest practical exercises to try yourself.
Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the
University of Oxford.

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What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia is a painful neurological disorder that affects one or more divisions of the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensory information from the face and head [1].

Trigeminal neuralgia is characterized by sudden, usually unilateral, intense, short-lived stabbing pain along the trigeminal nerve [2]. Therefore, neuralgia can be pain on one side of the head or face, which may repeat throughout the day [3]. Neuralgia attacks can be triggered by subtle stimulation, such as brushing the face, shaving or eating [1]. Although the pain only lasts 1-2 minutes, neuralgia has a profound impact on the quality of life of patients and can increase depression and anxiety in these individuals.

Causes of Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a type of neuropathic pain caused by damage to the nerve fiber that carries sensory information. For example sciatic pain and pudendal neuralgia are also types of neuropathic pain.

Despite this, the exact cause of trigeminal neuralgia is unclear.

One of the leading theories is that a blood vessel at the base of the head compresses the trigeminal nerve where it leaves the brainstem [1].

Other causes include traumatic compression of the nerve by neoplastic or vascular anomalies, infection, and intracranial tumours or conditions that impair nerve myelination, such as multiple sclerosis [4].

Can Exercise Help with Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Medication is often the primary treatment for trigeminal neuralgia, but research suggests that exercise could be a beneficial alternative or complementary approach. Indeed, current medical guidelines advise a “Multimodal Rehabilitation Approach,” which encompasses psychological therapy, physical activity, and physiotherapeutic exercises.

In humans, the following exercises have helped reduce aspects of pain, such as max intensity or pain duration [5]: aerobic training, aerobic and resistance training, high intensity interval training, massages and chiropractor interventions [6]

Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is a postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the University of Oxford. She has worked across a spectrum of hot topics in neuroscience, including her current project measuring reinforcement learning strategies in Parkinson’s disease. Previously, she studied the efficacy of psilocybin as a therapy for critical mental health conditions and examined molecular circadian rhythms of migraine disorders. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow and participated in a year abroad at the University of California, where she worked on a clinical trial for spinal cord injury.