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Trigeminal neuralgia and the upper cervical spine

By Staff | May 23, 2019

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is considered to be one of the most painful afflictions known to medical science. While TN is not fatal, its symptoms are very intense.

Caused by injury to the trigeminal nerve, which supplies the face, TN is characterized by sudden, severe attacks of electrical shock-like pain where the branches of the nerve are distributed – lips, eyes, nose, scalp, forehead, upper jaw and lower jaw. Each TN attack may occur without warning or may be triggered by specific stimulation in the affected areas of the face, such as through touch, talking, eating, drinking, chewing, tooth brushing, shaving, hair combing, face washing and kissing.

One common cause of TN stems from injury to the upper cervical (neck) spine. According to researchers, trauma to the head, face or upper neck – such as in blows to the head, accidents, falls or whiplash – may trigger the onset of TN pain.

How does cervical alignment affect the trigeminal nerve? It’s simple. The skull sits upon the very first vertebrae at the top of the neck, known as the atlas. The atlas provides great mobility for the head, allowing it to move in many directions, while also surrounding and protecting delicate brainstem nerves, including the trigeminal nerve. Unfortunately, the atlas can twist out of place through trauma, leading to “pinching” of nerves in the brainstem, including the trigeminal. Once the trigeminal nerve is compromised, facial pain can develop and worsen over time.

In order to determine whether an atlas injury is contributing to a patient’s TN pain, the individual can undergo an evaluation with a chiropractor specializing in the upper cervical spine. This rare specialty, known as upper cervical care, utilizes two diagnostic tools – thermal imaging and digital X-rays – to accurately assess the alignment of the head and upper neck vertebrae. Each patient’s misaligned atlas is corrected by administering a precise adjustment by hand on a specially-designed knee chest table. Many patients notice improvement in TN symptoms in just a few treatments.

With over 20 years of experience as a specialist in the upper cervical spine, Upper Cervical Chiropractor Dr. Erin Elster, D.C., has maintained a practice on Maui for the past six years.

For more information about trigeminal neuralgia, or to schedule an appointment, contact Dr. Elster in Kahului at (808) 866-6551 or www.erinelster.com.