Can Neck Problems Cause 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. Trigeminal neuralgia is characterized by sudden, usually unilateral, intense, short-lasting stabbing pain along the trigeminal nerve, the fifth cranial nerve. In this blog post, we will explore whether neck problems can cause trigeminal neuralgia.
Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

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

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Can neck problems cause trigeminal neuralgia?

Yes, neck problems can cause compression or damage to the trigeminal nerve, and even trigeminal neuralgia.

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-lasting stabbing pain along the trigeminal nerve, the fifth cranial nerve [2]. 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 or compression to the trigeminal nerve that carries sensory information to the face and neck. There are multiple causes of damage or compression to the nerve:

  • Compression of the trigeminal nerve by a blood vessel, for example, in the brainstem, where the trigeminal nerve enters the brain [1]
  • Traumatic compression of the nerve by neoplastic or vascular anomalies, infection, and intracranial tumours
  • Nerve damage by conditions that impair nerve myelination, such as multiple sclerosis [3].
  • Inflammation of the nerve
  • Idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia, where there is no apparent damage or blockage to the trigeminal nerve.

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Can Neck Problems Cause Trigeminal Neuralgia?

There is evidence to suggest that neck problems, specifically injuries to the upper cervical spinal cord, could potentially lead to trigeminal neuralgia. Neck pain can itself be a sign of underlying damage, and so can a symptom to look out for.

Case studies have reported patients who develop trigeminal neuralgia following injury or trauma of the neck. Jerky and sudden movements, such as whiplash, that impact the neck can cause shifting or compressing of the nerves. In rare cases, this was reported to impinge the nerve permanently, making the individual prone to trigeminal neuralgia attacks [4].

Tumours can also cause trigeminal neuralgia. Although rare, neuralgic pain can be an early warning sign of tumours, indicating that you should seek medical attention immediately.

In some cases, exercises for trigeminal neuralgia may be beneficial.

Summary: Can Neck Problems Cause Trigeminal Neuralgia?

The neck is a critical part of the nervous system that supports the head. Therefore, problems with the nerves in the neck or muscle tightness can lead to trigeminal neuralgia in some instances. If you experience neck pain, seek medical help, as it could also lead to other headache disorders.

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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.