Acupuncture for Facial Pain

From the standpoint of conventional medicine, there are numerous possible causes of facial pain, including:

  • Sinusitis

  • Trigeminal neuralgia (nerve pain)

  • Toothache

  • Ear infection

  • Dysfunction of the jaw


Pain may be dull, throbbing, stabbing or cramping; for some people it is intermittent, for others constant. Facial pain can be extremely distressing and debilitating, and sometimes the cause is not clear.

Facial Pain and TCM

Pain  in Chinese Medicine arises when our Qi is not free flowing; for some reason it is stuck or stagnant. In the case of facial pain, the obstruction is in one or more of the meridians which flow through the face. So treatment will involve freeing up the flow of Qi through this area, this will usually involve acupuncture on the face itself and on other points on the relevant meridians, perhaps on the arms or legs. Facial acupuncture is not an unpleasant experience; the needles are so fine that the insertion is often not felt at all, and once the needle is in the right place the patient usually feels only a dull, slightly achy or tingling sensation.

However, it is also important to understand why the Qi is getting stuck, and from the perspective of Chinese Medicine there are several possible causes of this, including the following:.

i) Sometimes the Qi is blocked due to what Chinese Medicine calls a ‘pathogenic factor’ obstructing the flow; this is a form of external Qi which blocks the body’s own Qi. For example, a Cold pathogen may invade the channels resulting in severe, biting pain which is worse in a cold wind or in cold weather. In this case as well as moving the Qi with acupuncture, we will want to warm the area, perhaps using moxibustion. We will also, of course, advise you to keep your face out of the cold! Other common pathogenic factors are Damp and Heat; in the former case the area may feel heavy and perhaps be a little swollen; in the latter it may be warm and slightly red.

ii) If the meridians have been invaded in this way, there is also likely to be a deficiency in the ’defensive Qi’. This is a concept in some ways parallel to the western notion of the immune system; in a healthy person the ’defensive Qi’ fights off any invading pathogens, and if one is lodged in the face this may well mean that the defensive Qi needs strengthening, with acupuncture and perhaps herbal therapy.

iii) Facial pain may also point to a more generalised underlying disharmony. Our careful questioning at the initial consultation will give us a clear idea of any such disharmony, and in this case local treatment of the area will be supplemented by treatment to rebalance your Qi overall, using acupuncture, herbal therapy and dietary modifications.

iv) Emotional factors may also play a part in facial pain. For instance, the stresses and strains of modern life and the loss of the ability to relax fully and deeply tend to leave us ‘uptight’. In this state the Qi does not flow so well, and this can exacerbate facial pain. Similarly, excessive or constant anger leads to Qi rushing upwards into the head and face (‘blowing our top’). In these cases acupuncture can help to relax and calm the spirit, and we can advise on ways to modify lifestyle and help you deal more satisfyingly with what life throws at you.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Facial Pain?

A study of 201 patients treated with acupuncture for facial pain was carried out at a hospital in Scotland 1; the author, a consultant oral and maxillo-facial surgeon, concluded that acupuncture has a significant role to play in the management of facial pain, and in some cases it may be the only treatment required.


1 Merchant N. (1995) Facial pain: a review of 200 cases treated with acupuncture Acupuncture in Medicine, Nov 1995 VOL X111 No2, 67-70)


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

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