Face Pain

by Lisa Pavese, FNP, Paul Lynch, MD, and Tory McJunkin, MD

Facial pain utilizes multiple treatment modalities that offer the most success in treatment. Facial pain occurs in many people and can have a variety of causes. Some causes for facial pain include migraine headaches, dental problems, temperomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, and neuropathic facial pain. A common neuropathic pain in the face is called trigeminal neuralgia.The trigeminal nerve is the fifth cranial nerve and is responsible for communicating sensory information to the brain. Trigeminal neuralgia is an irritation, or inflammation, of the trigeminal nerve and may be triggered by multiple everyday activities including smiling, eating, or brushing the teeth.

The trigeminal nerve has three branches, affecting three different aspects of the face. One or several of these branches can be the culprit causing pain. Identifying the correct nerve is vital to establishing a treatment plan. Another bundle of nerves responsible for some facial pain conditions is called the sphenopalatine ganglion. The sphenopalatine ganglion sits directly behind the nose and may be implicated in pain that occurs in various aspects of the face, primarily in the front.

Many headaches are caused by irritation of the sphenopalatine ganglia. Neuropathic facial pain may also originate from the occipital nerves in a condition called occipital neuralgia. This type of pain generally originates from the back of the head and can radiate to the face. Atypical facial pain is usually idiopathic, meaning that there is no known cause. Atypical facial pain usually occurs in one side of the face, and symptoms are present for most of the day, every day. The diagnosis of atypical facial pain is generally made after more common causes are excluded.

Facial Pain Treatment

Migraine pain is usually treated by utilizing one or more migraine medications, typically a prophylactic and an abortive medication (please see the section on headaches for more discussion of this). Dental pain is usually treated by removing or treating the offending agent; however, there are some injections that might be helpful as well. TMD pain can be treated by steroid injections directly into the joint, as well as TMD splints, chiropractic treatments, and medications, usually an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen.

Neuropathic facial pain can be treated by trigeminal nerve blocks, occipital nerve blocks, and sphenopalatine ganglion blocks. Some medications used for neuropathic facial pain include anti-inflammatories, anticonvulsants (gabapentin, carbamazepine), antidepressants (Cymbalta, Savella, amitriptylline), and occasionally opioids (hydrocodone), and opioid-like medications (tramadol).

Neuropathic facial pain is also commonly treated by neuromodulation, such as a spinal cord stimulator or a peripheral nerve stimulator. A study done by Slavin and Colpan, et al (2006) showed that 73% of patients who underwent peripheral nerve stimulator trials received pain relief of 50% or more. Of the patients who underwent permanent placement of peripheral nerve stimulators, some received relief so significant that they actually went on to have the system removed several years later.

These results indicate that neuromodulation is extremely efficacious in the treatment of facial pain. Utilizing multiple treatment modalities offers the most success in treating this very painful condition.

If you’re experiencing facial pain contact us today to schedule a consult with a facial pain specialist in the Twin Cities.

The Minnesota Institute for Pain Management strives to improve the quality of life for it's patients by restoring normal function by relieving pain. Contact Us today to schedule a consultation with our pain experts.