What Is Facial Pain?

Types of Pain 

The sensation of pain involves communication between your nerves, spinal cord, and brain. There are different types of pain, depending on the underlying cause. 

Acute or Chronic

Acute pain comes on suddenly, is usually sharp in quality, and has a specific cause. It serves as a warning of disease or a threat to the body. Acute pain will go away when the underlying cause is treated. Examples of causes of acute pain are cuts, burns, and bone breaks. 

Chronic pain lasts for many months or years, and is not eliminated after an underlying problem is fixed. Chronic pain can be difficult to treat and may require trying various therapies to reduce the pain.

The source of pain can be nociceptive or neuropathic. 

Nociceptive or Neuropathic

Nociceptors, pain receptors for tissue injury, exist throughout your body. Nociceptive pain occurs when damage is inflicted on body tissue, often an external injury such as stubbing your toe or getting injured during sports. Nociceptive pain can be acute or chronic. 

Neuropathic pain is caused by damage or injury of the nervous system, affecting 7-10% of the general population. This type of pain can occur without an obvious cause. The symptoms of chronic neuropathic pain can be complex, making treatment decisions difficult.

How Can Nerves Be Injured? 

  • Mechanical injury (pressure, impact) 
  • Thermal injury (excessive heat or cold) 
  • Chemical injury 

Neuropathies Defined 

Neuralgia means a pain in the part of the body served by a nerve or group of nerves. Nerves can be affected by pressure, heat or cold, or chemical means- and this can cause pain. This pain is called a neuralgia. The neuralgia can be continuous or on-and-off and is characterized by terms such as stabbing, shooting, or sometimes constant burning or tingling. Pain is felt along the route of the nerve in the body. 

The term neuropathic means there is a lesion or disease within the neural system. The “pathic” part of the word tells us that there’s an abnormality, including injury, tumor, or disease as a causal factor. Neuropathic pains can be sub-classified even further based on their location as being either central (located in the brain/spinal cord) or peripheral (outside the brain). A neuropathy is basically thought of as a disturbance in function or pathological change in a nerve. 

Trigeminal neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN)  is a neurological pain in the trigeminal nerve- the ‘facial nerve’. TN is most often caused by a blood vessel compressing and injuring the nerve. It is appropriate to use the term trigeminal neuropathic pain to describe the symptoms of vascular compressive neuropathy. The challenge is that facial pain includes an array of disorders, with fine distinctions that make diagnosis challenging. In addition, classification is not used consistently and your doctor may use a term that is different, but means the same, as what you see here.

Learn more about classifications of trigeminal neuralgia.

Other types of neuropathic facial pain 

There are other diagnoses associated with trigeminal neuropathic pain, and arriving a correct diagnosis can be complex. It is also possible to have more than one neuropathic pain condition at the same time.

Learn more about:

Facial pain that is not neuropathic 

Sometimes, the pain a person experiencing is not trigeminal neuropathic pain; rather, the pain stems from other sources:

  • Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs)
  • Dental disease: cavities or gum disease 
  • Cracked teeth 
  • Dental pain
  • Infections, including sinusitis 
  • Migraine headache 
  • Immunologic conditions: including multiple sclerosis (MS), Sjogren’s syndrome, and Lupus 
  • Lyme disease
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By filling out the form below, you will receive a free FPA Patient Guide and periodic updates on the management and treatment of facial pain conditions. We do not share this information with any outside sources.