The utility of clinical neurophysiological and quantitative sensory testing for trigeminal neuropathy

J Orofac Pain. 2004 Fall;18(4):355-9.


This article reviews the utility of neurophysiological recordings and quantitative sensory testing (QST) in providing sensitive, quantitative, and objective tests for the diagnosis and localization of damage to the trigeminal nerve. Electromyography and recordings of the masseter reflex and compound muscle action potential evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation or direct electrical stimulation of the masseteric nerve can be of value in evaluating the function of a motor neurons supplying the muscles of mastication. Orthodromic recording of the sensory action potential and trigeminal somatosensory-evoked potential recording with the near-nerve stimulation technique are sensitive tools for the investigation of trigeminal sensory Abeta afferents, whereas recordings of polysynaptic trigeminal brainstem reflexes and tactile QST are less sensitive. At late stages of recovery, the blink reflex and masseter inhibitory reflex are often normal, but at earlier stages, the blink reflex recording has good prognostic value, and the presence of a reflex response may confirm continuity of the nerve trunk after partial laceration. Trigeminal small-fiber function (Adelta and C) can be studied with thermal QST of the cool, warm, heat pain, and cold pain detection thresholds or with laser-evoked potential recording. Thermal QST may remain abnormal years after axonal damage and aids in the diagnosis of late sequelae of trigeminal nerve injury. In a study of the diagnostic value of neurography, blink reflex and thermal QST, and various commonly used clinical sensory tests, neurophysiologic tests and thermal QST had better sensitivity (50% to 88% vs 40% to 59%) and negative predictive values (78% to 100% vs 70% to 74%) compared to clinical examination, whereas the specificity (55% to 100%) and positive predictive values (48% to 73%) were similar. At 1 year after trigeminal nerve injury, the risk of a false negative finding with clinical sensory testing was 94%, whereas the combination of nerve conduction recordings and thermal QST increased the diagnostic yield to 100% in patients with long-standing postsurgical sensory alteration. In conclusion, clinical neurophysiological recordings and QST improve the diagnostic accuracy for trigeminal neuropathy.

MeSH terms

  • Cranial Nerve Injuries / complications
  • Cranial Nerve Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Masseter Muscle / physiology
  • Nerve Fibers / physiology
  • Neural Conduction
  • Neurologic Examination / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Somatosensory Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Thermosensing
  • Touch
  • Trigeminal Nerve Injuries*
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia / diagnosis*
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia / etiology