Acupuncture for Neuralgia
by Grace Ganel, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., C.Z.B.
Neuralgia is an extraordinarily uncomfortable symptom. The pain tends to travel along a nerve pathway. Neuralgia can impact any nerve, but most of the time people use the term to refer to nerve pain in the face. Acupuncture can be a great support for people suffering with neuralgia.
A common type of facial neuralgia is trigeminal neuralgia. Trigeminal neuralgia is pain along the pathway of the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve, and therefore the pain, is located on the side of the face and extends towards the eyes, nose, mouth, and jaw. Neuralgia pain can be severe, shooting, or electric in nature. It can be triggered by certain behaviors, like touching the face or speaking, or it can be completely spontaneous. The pain lasts from a few seconds to several minutes. Some people also have aching or burning pain all the time, with episodes of spasm. Usually trigeminal neuralgia occurs on one side only (1).
Allopathic treatments for Neuralgia
Your allopathic doctor may tell you to take certain over-the-counter or prescription medications. Common medications for neuralgia include pain relievers, anticonvulsants, and muscle-relaxants. These medications are not always effective. In this case, your allopathic doctor may recommend surgical interventions. Medications and surgeries are, as always, not without risks and adverse events. Many of the medications used for this condition can be habit forming. Some of the medications may cause injury to certain body systems. Finally, some folks can have allergies to medications. Every surgery is inherently risky, and your doctor will help you weigh your options. If you’re considering surgical intervention for neuralgia, talk to your doctor about attempting other interventions first, such as acupuncture (1)!
Acupuncture for Neuralgia
Research on acupuncture often lags behind research on allopathic interventions, but there is some support for the use of acupuncture in cases of neuralgia! When I work with someone who is experiencing nerve pain, I have many different treatment possibilities at my disposal.
Sometimes I needle close to the origin of the affected nerve. In other words, I find where the nerve emerges from the central nervous system (the spine or brainstem). Depending on the severity of the symptoms, I might also needle near other parts of the affected nerve. There is some research supporting this type of treatment strategy (2, 3).
Other times, I find that treating the whole person is the best way to help with this symptom. For example, when I suspect that there is an emotional component to the onset of the pain. In this case, I use acupuncture points that work with that emotion. Understanding emotional and other non-structural factors is what makes acupuncture special in pain management. There is some evidence suggesting that acupuncture and other forms of Chinese medicine can reduce symptoms and support clients with trigeminal neuralgia (4).
Zero Balancing for neuralgia
Zero Balancing (ZB) works directly with the spine because it works on bone. ZB also works on the mental/emotional level. When I am doing ZB, I know I’m never “just” touching structure. In every touch, I interact with my client on all levels. There are several case studies available where a client with nerve pain experiences symptom relief through ZB (5)