There are 12 cranial nerves in the body, all originating in the brain. They come in pairs and connect different body areas and organs to the brain.
Cranial nerves can transmit two types of information:
Nerves that send sensory information are said to have sensory functions. Those that send motor information have motor functions. While some nerves have only sensory or motor functions, others can have both.
The trigeminal nerve is one of the cranial nerves that has both sensory and motor function. Cranial nerves are also classified using Roman numerals based on their location. The trigeminal nerve is also called cranial nerve V.
The trigeminal nerve is the largest of the 12 cranial nerves. Its main function is transmitting sensory information to the skin, sinuses, and mucous membranes in the face. It also stimulates movement in the jaw muscles.
The trigeminal nerve has three different divisions. Each division has a slightly different function.
The ophthalmic division conveys sensory information from the:
Like the ophthalmic division, the maxillary division of your trigeminal nerve has a sensory component. It transmits sensory information from the:
The mandibular division is the only part of the trigeminal nerve that has both sensory and motor functions.
It communicates sensory information from the:
It also stimulates movement of the muscles in the jaw and some of the muscles within the inner ear.
Explore the interactive 3-D diagram below to learn more about the trigeminal nerve.
The trigeminal nerve plays a role in many sensations that are felt in different parts of the face. As a result, there are several ways to test the function of the trigeminal nerve.
Common methods include:
The trigeminal nerve can also be a source of intense pain for some people. This is part of a chronic condition called trigeminal neuralgia. It happens when the trigeminal nerve is under pressure or irritated. This can happen when a vein or artery presses against the nerve. Trigeminal neuralgia is more common in people over the age of 50.
Several things can cause irritation of the trigeminal nerve, including:
The pain associated with trigeminal neuralgia can be very painful. People often describe it as a shooting or jabbing pain that lasts anywhere from a few seconds to several hours.
Pain can also be achy or burning. It tends to occur more often over time. Many things can trigger the pain, including touching the face, shaving, eating, yawning, or talking. It can affect one or both sides of the face.
Trigeminal neuralgia is usually managed with medications used for other conditions, including anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and muscle relaxers. But some people may eventually stop responding to medication.
Sometimes surgery is needed to remove what’s irritating the trigeminal nerve. In other cases, injecting a numbing agent into the nerve can help.
Mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, can also help to relax nearby muscles and ease pain.
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