Trigeminal neuralgia is a severe pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensation from your face to your brain. For patients who suffer with trigeminal neuralgia, even mild stimulation of the face, such as from brushing their teeth or lightly touching their face, may trigger a jolt of excruciating pain.
Short mild attacks may initially be suffered, but trigeminal neuralgia can progress and cause longer, more frequent bouts of extreme pain. Usually, the onset of trigeminal neuralgia is assumed to be a blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve in the head, which sends branches to the forehead, cheek and lower jaw.
Peripheral Electrical Nerve Stimulation (PENS)
PENS is a potentially ground breaking advance in the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia, as it can be used to treat its severe symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia in an effective way without the use of strong medication or invasive surgery.
PENS is actually a fusion of the benefits of TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), with electro-acupuncture. In essence it harnesses the benefits of both into a very effective way of treating pain. TENS is a more familiar treatment, whereby electrical impulses, without needles are passed through the skin to treat the nerve endings and stop them from feeling pain. PENS is slightly different in the sense that the electrical impulses are delivered through the skin.
This fundamental difference in the two applications allows PENS to directly target the nerve endings that are causing the nerve pain. When a TENS procedure is used, the skin can often act as a barrier and some of the electrical stimulation is lost through the skin’s natural defenses, so a PENS system can get straight to the root of the problem and none of the potency of the electrodes is lost.
PENS uses a low voltage electrical current delivered to the damaged tissue or peripheral nerves to relieve the pain. In effect, it dampens down the overactive nerves that are causing pain.
PENS therapy does not destroy any nerves; it just makes them less sensitive to pain. A low voltage electrical current is delivered via a specially designed needle to a layer of tissue just below the surface of the skin close to the specific nerve, or to the nerve endings situated in an area that is painful. The needle is placed with a small amount of local anaesthetic on the skin. The needle is connected to a specialised machine that is then turned on and delivers the electrical current. The procedure lasts for about 30 minutes, then the machine is turned off and the needle removed. Patients can go home a short time after this.
PENS is considered a low risk procedure, with very few side effects, which may include some bruising and tenderness at the probe insertion site. There is a very small risk of infection and nerve damage. Some patients will have total pain relief, while others experience prolonged pain relief for three months or more.