Can Acupuncture Treat Facial Pain?

Acupuncture and a Toothache

I love nuts and eat a lot of them. However, about a year and a half ago I crunched down on an almond and felt a starburst of pain in one of my teeth. My dentist found no crack or decay in the tooth, but it never quite healed and was cranky for months. After simmering on low for about a year, the tooth finally blew up, and I had to have a root canal. I won’t go into details other than to say it was a necessary evil that ultimately took care of the problem. However, there were a couple of days of post-root canal pain that were really uncomfortable. During that time, it seemed like acupuncture was the only thing that really gave me much relief.

Acupuncture for my tooth pain involved a couple of needles in my cheek, near the site of the pain, as well as a few points in my hands. I understand that some people will be a little squeamish about receiving acupuncture in the face, but the reality is that it’s not painful and can be incredibly effective. Beyond treating toothaches, here are a number of facial conditions for which acupuncture can bring relief.

Treating Trigeminal Neuralgia with Acupuncture

Anyone who has ever suffered from Trigeminal Neuralgia will tell you that the pain is exquisitely excruciating. It’s intense, with nervy electric zaps that can last anywhere from days to months. The pain is caused by a blood vessel that is impinging on the Trigeminal nerve, causing the nerve to painfully misfire. There are a number of triggers that can activate a painful episode, such as wind, cold, applying makeup, talking, shaving, or tooth brushing—essentially any contact with the face.

Acupuncture clinic near MinneapolisThe pain from Trigeminal Neuralgia is almost always one-sided, and can affect one or all three branches of the nerve. Depending on how the nerve is impinged, the pain can be near your eye, cheekbone, in front of your ear, near the side of your mouth, or just above your jawline—or all of those.

Western treatments for this condition include medications to block the pain, such as anticonvulsants or gabapentin, as well as surgery to treat the impingement in extreme cases. Acupuncture can also be helpful in calming the pain associated with Trigeminal Neuralgia. There are several patterns in Chinese medicine that may cause trigeminal pain, so careful diagnosis is key. An acupuncture treatment would include local points around the site of the pain, as well as additional body points that are chosen based on your particular pattern and symptoms.

Help for Bell’s Palsy

Another condition that occurs only in your face is that of Bell’s palsy. Caused by inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles in your face, Bell’s palsy is best known for causing drooping of one side of the face. There are, however, a number of other symptoms associated with this condition, including excessive tearing from the affected eye, drooling, loss of taste, pain in or behind your ear, and facial numbness.

The cause of Bell’s palsy is not caused by a stroke, but thought to be the result of a flare of the herpes simplex virus. Interestingly, symptoms occur on the right side in almost two-thirds of cases, and symptoms can last from a few months to a year. In some cases, symptoms may become chronic, without much improvement over time. Western treatments for Bell’s palsy may include the use of corticosteroid or antiviral medications.

In Chinese medicine, Bell’s palsy is considered to be something called Zhong Feng, or an attack of wind. Similar to a cold or the flu, Bell’s palsy is the result of external wind due to depletion. This simply means that it comes from outside of your body (a virus) and flares up because you’re run down. Over the course of months or even years, behaviors like not eating well, working too hard, not resting or sleeping well, and stress wear you down to the point that pathogens move in, take hold, and make you sick.

There are several research studies that point to the effectiveness of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in treating Bell’s palsy. Your practitioner would likely combine acupuncture treatments to reduce your facial symptoms with strategies to help replenish your body constitution.

Acupuncture for Sinus Pain and Sinusitis

Sinus infections can cause a great number of symptoms, and sometimes those symptoms don’t clearly point to your sinuses. I have seen a number of patients over the years who know they have sinus problems only because they feel completely run down. More common symptoms, however, include facial pain, headache, a runny or stuffy nose, loss of the sense of smell, fever, bad breath, and pressure behind your forehead or cheeks.

Acute inflammation and infection of your sinuses tend to last from two to four weeks, and symptoms can be severe. An acute sinus problem is often caused by congestion from allergies or the common cold. Lasting for months or longer, chronic sinusitis frequently is the result of structural issues, such as nasal polyps, a deviated septum, blocked nasal drainage, and even a chronically stuffy nose.

Western treatments for sinus issues usually involve medications (antihistamines, antibiotics, corticosteroids, etc.) or surgery to repair and/or open your sinuses. In Chinese medicine, treatment is focused on opening and draining up your sinuses, as well as dealing with phlegm, which is usually the underlying cause of the problem. Often accumulations of phlegm come from seemingly unrelated sources, such as poor digestion, decreased immunity, or the inability to metabolize fluids well. Sinus problems are a condition that Chinese medicine can treat exceedingly well with a combination of acupuncture, herbs, heat therapy, diet, and lifestyle modifications.

Tooth Clenching as a Source of Facial Pain

Also called bruxism, tooth clenching or grinding can be the source of facial, ear, head, tooth, and neck pain. Clenching is caused by the tightening of the masseter muscle, which is found at the corner of your jawline. It’s also the most common cause of TMJ (Temporal Mandibular Joint) issues. Pound for pound, the masseter muscle is the strongest muscle in your body, and when it becomes tight and irritable, it can cause a whole host of problems.

Because most tooth grinding and clenching occurs at night, many people are unaware that they’re doing so until they have seemingly random facial and neck symptoms. Acupuncture is effective not only to release the masseter muscle, but also to reduce inflammation in the TM Joint, relieve head and neck pain, and alleviate stress, which is likely the root cause of clenching in the first place.

Think of Acupuncture

You may not always consider acupuncture when you’re experiencing facial pain, but you should. I admit when it came to my toothache, I didn’t think of getting treatments until late in the game, but when I did, the results were impressive. Beyond Bell’s palsy, Trigeminal Neuralgia, sinus problems, and clenching, acupuncture can also be used for eye problems, migraine headaches, and even cosmetic anti-aging treatments.

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