It’s in the Brain! How the Trigeminal Nerve is Related to Migraines

I’ve been working with migraineurs for more than 20 years, and I’m still baffled by the unique set of symptoms each person experiences. A mother will have migraine with aura and nausea while her teenage daughter experiences no aura, but an intense, throbbing pain throughout her entire body. What makes everyone so different? It all stems from the brainstem.

The Brain’s Intersection

At the base of our brain is a complex network of “wiring” for the nervous system. Data collected by various parts of the body go here to gather in nuclei (clusters of cells), which will then send signals to the path of the “appropriate” part of the brain and body. Brainstem nuclei control quite a few things in the body that most of us are familiar with, including:

·         Stress

·         Mood

·         Sleep

·         Pain

These different cell clusters live close to one another, so misfiring signals may explain why so many people experience so many different symptoms. While every migraineur has different symptoms, many experience a specific kind of migraine pain – trigeminal neuralgia.

What’s the Trigeminal Nerve?

Photo from: Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC

Migraines either originate as a neurological disorder, or they become one. In any case, most of you are likely familiar with the kind of pain that comes with migraine. It’s that feeling that something is trying to force or stab its way through your skull from behind your eye. Or, maybe the pain starts in the back of the neck where the brainstem originates. In either case, it often causes a domino effect and leading to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, white flashes in the eye, etc., etc.

We know the brainstem is responsible for sending signals to the rest of the brain and body. Your unique triggers signal an activation in the form of an electrical wave through the brain, which leads to an overreaction from some of the nerves, especially the trigeminal nerve. This nerve has sensors located in your:

·         Mucous membranes

·         Facial skin

·         Tendons

·         Teeth

·         Muscles

When the brainstem receives a signal from a trigger, it sends a pain response to other areas of the body, and the trigeminal nerve retaliates (responds) with an inflammatory or overreaction to the stimulus.

Is Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation Worth It?

In 2017, the journal Neurological Sciences published a preliminary trial on a transcutaneous supraorbital neurotransmission device, which is a noninvasive device called Cefaly.  Their study has shown hopeful results. Cefaly is placed on the patient’s forehead with adhesive for 20 minutes a day to deliver external stimulation to the trigeminal nerve. Here’s what the initial results found:

·         50% reduction in frequency

·         50% reduction in the use of migraine medications

Another study from the International Headache Society showed that 29% of patients who received one hour of trigeminal nerve stimulation were pain-free and 79% had “significant relief.” The placebo group of patients experienced 6% and 39% respectively.

What to Do At Home

B vitamins are a good addition to your migraine regimen. There is evidence that B vitamins will help with trigeminal neuralgia as well. Your body is trying to respond to the pain of migraines in whatever way it can; that means depleting its stores of hormones and not effectively using nutrients and minerals. You’d be surprised how much can be fixed with an improved diet and lifestyle change.

There are a few deficiencies that are common in most migraineurs. Here are the top four you’ll want to pay attention to:

1.       Magnesium

2.       Vitamin D

3.       Riboflavin (B2)

4.       Coenzyme Q10

Now more than ever, it’s important you understand that you’re not alone. Migraines are hard enough as it is, and when you add in the extra stress from current events, it’s a recipe for disaster. But it doesn’t have to be. Reach out via phone, email or social media. I’m here for you, and I can help you find more information and more options.


Association of Migraine Disorders: Causes of Migraine

American Migraine Foundation: Trigeminal Neuralgia

Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC