Neuralgia literally just means “nerve pain”, but it is used to mean something more specific.
Technically any pain, like a mild trapped nerve, could be called neuralgia. But the term is actually used to describe significant sensitivity, not just irritation.
It is often associated with other conditions, such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis. It can also be post-viral, as with postherpetic neuralgia. In all of these cases, a nerve is irritated or damaged, which leads to its sensitisation.
Sensitisation makes painful sensations more painful, and some non-painful sensations surprisingly uncomfortable. This could mean that the feeling of bedsheets on skin is unbearable, for example.
Pain in neuralgia can be described as burning, electric, sharp, or stabbing. In contrast, it can also feel like more of an ache. Typically this pain will follow quite a defined line, which is a clear sign to your osteopath that the pain is following a specific nerve.
One of the nerves that supplies the face is the trigeminal nerve. It branches into three smaller nerves:
- Occipital (upper) branch: supplying the top of the face
- Maxillary (middle) branch: supplying the middle of the face
- Mandibular (lower) branch: supplying the bottom jaw
Usually it is the middle or lower branch that is affected, and very rarely does it affect both sides. Pain can come out of nowhere, or follow exposure to cold air, touch, or eating. Pain is severe but usually quick to pass. However it might come and go throughout the day.
In addition to the possible causes mentioned above, trigeminal neuralgia can be caused by pressure from a blood vessel. Your GP may want to send you for a scan or further to make sure nothing serious is causing the irritation.
Evidence suggests that osteopathy can be beneficial for pain relief in trigeminal neuralgia. Although it is unlikely that we would be able to affect the root cause of the pain, we may be able to help to calm the nerve down. Your GP may offer painkillers and suggest you keep a pain diary to better understand your triggers.
Shingles is caused by the same virus as chicken pox: herpes zoster. It can become symptomatic years after recovering from chicken pox because it stays dormant in the nervous system. The rash from shingles tends to follow the course of a nerve, so it’s not too surprising that there might be neurological symptoms.
After the rash fades, you may find symptoms of neuralgia in its place. These can include the sharp pains and increased sensitivity mentioned above. Symptoms typically self resolve within a year, but the process may be sped up with treatment. Osteopaths work with nerve pain frequently, and can use techniques to try and desensitise the nerve.
Shingles is highly contagious, and you should not see your osteopath before the rash has cleared. You can get in contact to discuss your symptoms if you’re not sure whether you’re safe to come in yet.
If you suffer from neuralgia, make an appointment and see what we can do for you.