Mechanisms of craniofacial pain

Juliana Geremias Chichorro, Frank Porreca, Barry Sessle

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Aim To provide an overview of mechanisms underlying craniofacial pain; to highlight peripheral and central adaptations that may promote chronification of pain in craniofacial pain states such as migraine and temporomandibular disorders (TMD). Background Pain is a common symptom associated with disorders involving craniofacial tissues including the teeth and their supporting structures, the temporomandibular joint and the muscles of the head. Most acute painful craniofacial conditions are easily recognized and well managed, but others, especially those that are chronic (e.g., migraine, TMD and trigeminal neuropathies), present clinical challenges. Preclinical studies have provided substantial information about the anatomical and physiological mechanisms related to the initiation and modulation of nociceptive signals in the trigeminal system. While knowledge of the mechanisms underlying chronic craniofacial pain remains limited, both clinical and preclinical investigations suggest that changes in afferent inputs to the brain as well as in brain structure and modulatory pathways occur in chronic pain. Collectively, these changes result in amplification of nociception that promotes and sustains craniofacial chronic pain states. Conclusions The increased understanding gained of the physiological and pathological processing of nociception in the trigeminal system has provided new perspectives for the mechanistic understanding of acute craniofacial pain conditions and the peripheral and central adaptations that are related to pain chronification. Such knowledge may contribute to improvements in currently available treatments as well as to the development of novel analgesic therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)613-626
Number of pages14
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Craniofacial pain
  • acute pain
  • central sensitization
  • chronic pain
  • descending modulation
  • peripheral sensitization
  • trigeminal system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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