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3 01, 2011

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a disorder that affects the trigeminal nerve, which runs from the jaw into the face. In trigeminal neuralgia, the nerve function is disrupted. This can cause attacks of mild or intense pain in the cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, lips or even the eye and forehead. The attacks can happen spontaneously or are triggered by mild stimulation to the face such as shaving, smiling, eating, or brushing your teeth. Attacks may initially be occasional twinges of mild pain but as trigeminal neuralgia progresses there may be longer, more frequent bouts of severe, shooting or jabbing pain like an electric shock.  Episodes of frequent attacks can last days, weeks, months or longer, and there can be periods where no pain is experienced.

Trigeminal neuralgia is often a problem of pressure being put on the nerve, usually from an enlarged artery adjacent to the nerve, but in some cases it may be due to a tumor compressing the nerve. In other cases it can be related to multiple sclerosis or a similar disorder that causes damage to certain nerves. In many people who have suffered from shingles, trigeminal neuralgia can be a result of the virus, along with nerve pain in other areas of the body. Trigeminal neuralgia can occur as a result of aging, or in other cases, a cause cannot be found. It occurs in women more often than men, and is more likely to occur in people over the age of 50.

There are a variety of treatments that may be used in Western medicine for trigeminal neuralgia. Medications are usually the first treatment, such as anti-convulsants or muscle relaxing medications. However, over time, some people with the disorder may stop responding to medications or experience unpleasant side effects. In these cases, injections to numb the nerve or surgery to relieve the pressure on the nerve may be considered.

Acupuncture is an option well worth considering for trigeminal neuralgia. Studies in recent years have shown the positive effects of acupuncture for nerve disorders, and the World Health Organization lists acupuncture as a viable treatment for trigeminal neuralgia. From a Chinese medicine perspective, trigeminal neuralgia has two main causes. The first is over-exposure to cold and wind, causing an obstruction of the blood and qi-energy in the meridians of the face, leading to sudden attacks of facial pain and spasms of the facial muscles, symptoms which are aggravated by cold and relieved by heat. The attacks may be accompanied by runny nose and excess salivation. The second cause is due to internal factors, mainly an imbalance of liver and stomach energy, causing sudden attacks of facial pain with more of a burning sensation, accompanied by bloodshot eyes, tearing of the eyes, thirst, and irritability. In this case, the condition may develop as a result of lifestyle and dietary habits which over time may lead to an internal imbalance.

In either case, acupuncture can be remarkably effective in alleviating facial pain without side effects. Treatments help to improve circulation to relieve pain and irritation of the trigeminal nerve. Acupuncture can help to relieve the symptoms during a flare-up and may also promote better functioning of the trigeminal nerve so that flare-ups are less likely to occur or are more mild when they do occur. Indeed, acupuncture is shown to be a great option for trigeminal neuralgia, and can help you regain your lifestyle and live free of pain.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.

16 12, 2010

Bell’s Palsy

Bell's palsy is a condition where the nerve that controls the facial muscles becomes swollen or compressed, causing sudden facial paralysis or weakness on one side of the face and making it difficult to smile or close the eye on the affected side. Symptoms may include facial droop and difficulty with facial expressions, pain behind or in front of the ear on the affected side, sounds that seem louder on the affected side, headaches, loss of taste, and changes in the amount of tears and saliva the body produces.

The nerve that controls the facial muscles passes through a narrow corridor of bone on its way to the face. With Bell’s palsy, this nerve becomes inflamed and swollen, usually from infection with a virus, and gets pinched in this tight corridor. Pressure from the bone can damage the protective covering of the nerve and interfere with communication between the nerve and the facial muscles, resulting in weakness and paralysis. The most common virus that causes Bell’s palsy is herpes simplex, the virus that causes cold sores. Other viruses that are believed to cause Bell’s palsy are the viruses that cause chicken pox, shingles, flu, and mononeucleosis.

Most people with Bell’s palsy recover fully, with symptoms beginning to improve within a few weeks, and complete recovery within three to six months. A small number of people never fully recover and continue to have some symptoms for life. Western medical treatment may include medications such as corticosteroids or antiviral drugs, exercise and massage, and in very rare cases, surgery to relieve the pressure on the facial nerve. It’s also very important to protect the eye on the affected side, using eye drops and eye salves to prevent the eye from drying out and causing permanent damage.

Chinese medicine (TCM) takes a slightly different approach to Bell’s palsy. After all, there are many of us who suffer from these common viruses such as cold sores, flu, chicken pox, and shingles, but only about 1% of people will experience Bell’s palsy. This is where lifestyle and our natural constitution come into play, two factors which Chinese medicine always considers to be very important to any health condition. Typically, Bell’s palsy can arise when the body is left vulnerable because of what we call a qi-energy deficiency. Our qi-energy is what powers all of our body’s normal functions, and a shortage of qi-energy naturally will have an effect on our body’s ability to function at its optimum health. It is then easier for us to be affected by outside influences or injury. A qi-energy vacuity is a pattern that develops slowly over time, and can be caused by lifestyle factors that deplete the body, such as a diet of incorrect foods, overwork, or chronic stress.

Acupuncture can offer Bell’s palsy sufferers a quicker and more complete recovery. Treatment promotes the flow of qi-energy and blood to relieve the rigidity and paralysis of the facial muscles and to supply them with a sufficient flow of energy and blood for healing. Because Bell’s palsy is seen as an external attack on the body (such as with cold or flu, where something “invades” the body), treatment also works to “drive out” the pathogen, as it would with a virus- which is very much in line with Western medicine thinking as to the causes of Bell’s palsy. In this way, acupuncture can help to diminish the symptoms of Bell’s palsy, as well as strengthen the body for a better recovery and reduced likelihood of re-occurrence.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC.