Now accepting Telehealth appointments. Schedule a virtual visit.

What Causes Chronic Facial Pain And How Can You Treat It?

Bending, lifting, working out, gardening, and countless other activities we humans do can tax our muscles and cause temporary pain. You usually feel it in your back, legs, and arms. So when you suddenly get a twinge in your face, it’s unfamiliar and a little worrisome.

Dr. Jay Shah at SamWell Institute for Pain Management in Colonia and Livingston, New Jersey specializes in pain of all types, even when it’s in your face and you can’t figure out where it’s coming from. He expertly diagnoses the source of your facial pain and treats it with the most advanced technology and techniques. Here’s what you need to know.

Common causes of facial pain

Pain in your face can stem from many different sources, including:

These conditions all have specific reasons for causing your face to hurt and offer a clear path for treatment and resolution. But there’s another reason for facial pain that’s less obvious and calls for specialized treatments — trigeminal nerve pain.

Understanding trigeminal nerve pain

Your trigeminal nerve is the largest nerve in your cranium — it starts in your brain and branches out across your head and face carrying sensation messages back to your brain. If that nerve sustains damage anywhere along its route, you have trigeminal neuralgia, and therefore, face pain with associated numbness, tingling, and burning.

Trigeminal neuralgia can feel like a quick shock, or it may last a few minutes or a few days. It typically affects one side of the face or the other, but sometimes both. Some describe it as stabbing, others as aching or burning. Whatever it feels like, you likely want to know how you got it and how to get rid of it.

Trigeminal neuralgia occurs whenever there’s damage to the nerve. The nerve may be compressed by a tumor, damaged in an injury or surgery, or disrupted by illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or stroke. And once you have trigeminal neuralgia, almost anything can trigger the pain:

Clearly, these are essential daily activities, so ignoring your trigeminal neuralgia isn’t an option. Fortunately, Dr. Shah offers four very effective treatments.

1. Medications

The first course of treatment for your trigeminal neuralgia is medication. It’s the least invasive, and it’s highly effective for many patients. Dr. Shah may prescribe a nerve pain medication that helps most people achieve significant relief. 

Antispasmodic medications may also help, as they relax the muscle tissue surrounding the nerves and alleviate the pain.

2. Nerve blocks

If medications aren’t effective, Dr. Shah may offer you a targeted nerve block, which is an injection of an anesthetic under live-image guidance. It bathes your nerves with medication, and immediately stops the transmission of pain signals from your nerves to your brain, giving you relief. But the benefit doesn’t stop there.

Nerve blocks do more than just stop the pain in the moment; they also serve as a diagnostic tool. Knowing exactly which nerve in the vast network is the one causing your pain is tricky. But Dr. Shah can precisely target individual nerves, and locate the culprit when the nerve block stops your pain. 

Another benefit of a nerve block is its ability to “reset” your nerves. Trauma or injuries can “rewire” your nerves to malfunction and send pain signals long after healing is complete. Nerve blocks can reset your nerves to their default function.

Finally, it’s important to know that a nerve block won’t cure the source of your pain, and the relief it provides is temporary. But its value as a diagnostic tool can’t be understated, and its ability to deliver real relief long enough to facilitate treatment and healing of the pain source is vital.

3. Radiofrequency ablation

Thankfully, there are procedures that can provide long-lasting relief for facial pain. Once the nerve block identifies the nerve or nerves causing your pain, Dr. Shah can turn off the nerves’ ability to send painful signals into the facial nerves with radiofrequency ablation or rhizotomy.  This is usually performed in a pulsed manor to preserve crucial facial structures during the procedure. 

Here, Dr. Shah uses a slender needle guided by advanced imaging technology to target the specific nerve, then directs radiofrequency energy along the nerve bundle. The energy gently heats up the nerve and stops its ability to send pain messages to your brain. The result is similar to the nerve block, but the rhizotomy lasts up to two years — plenty of time to relax and heal without the constant burden of pain.

4. Electrical stimulation

Electrical stimulation, another way to block your nerves from sending pain signals, offers long-term relief from facial pain when more conservative treatments haven’t worked. Depending on which nerves are involved, Dr. Shah may suggest one of two procedures:

1. Peripheral nerve stimulation

Dr. Shah places tiny electrical leads on the peripheral nerves that trigger your facial pain. The electrodes respond to impulses from a small device you wear outside your body during a trial period of about a week. Electrical impulses stimulate the nerve and “turn off” the pain signal. If this successfully decreases or eliminates your pain, Dr. Shah implants the battery-powered device under your skin.

2. Spinal cord stimulation

Spinal cord stimulation works in much the same way as peripheral nerve stimulation, but the targeted nerves are in your cervical spine. If Dr. Shah determines that you’re likely to experience greater pain relief by targeting the nerve roots in your spine rather than the peripheral nerves that branch out into your face, he follows the same procedure with a trial first, followed by implantation if it’s successful.

If you have unexplained facial pain when you smile, eat, or touch your cheek, you may have trigeminal neuralgia. The best way to know for sure is to call us at either of our New Jersey locations, or book your consultation online with Dr. Shah.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Can Anything Stop My Horrible Headaches?

Everyone gets a headache once in a while, but what do you do if they keep coming back, forcing you to shut down your life for hours or days at a time? Find out your options for long-term relief - you have more options than you think!

Can Anything Stop My Chronic Pelvic Pain?

You’ve seen multiple doctors and tried multiple treatments, but still can’t stop your pelvic pain. Your story is more common than you think, but you can change the ending. Find out about the treatments that can close the book on your pain.