The Point of Acupuncture: A Case of Facial Spasming

Eight years ago, the left side of June’s face began spasming and twitching, leaving the 62-year-old woman with pain and cramps in her face and neck.  “Nothing showed up in CAT scans or MRIs,” she recalls.

After four years, when her neurologist said nothing more could be done, June decided to try acupuncture. She traveled to Washington, D.C., and New York City before being referred last year to Tim Rhudy, a member of Cleveland Clinic’s Pain Management Department and one of approximately 100 licensed acupuncturists in Ohio.

“It was like an ice pick breaking up a block of ice,” she says of her first session with Mr. Rhudy.  Within a day or two after a treatment, June's face relaxes and she has less pain. Regular acupuncture sessions help her manage her condition, which she attributes to years of stress.

Stimulating Pathways

Acupuncture is the stimulation of precise points on the body with hair-thin metal needles. These points, most of which are near nerves, fall along the body’s meridians — linear pathways throughout the body reminiscent of a subway system: the meridians are the subway lines; the points are the subway stations.

Different styles of acupuncture hail from many cultures. Mr. Rhudy practices a modern American style called Acupuncture Physical Medicine, or APM, as developed by Mark Seem, PhD. This potent style blends Western physical medicine techniques and classical Chinese acupuncture, incorporating trigger point therapy with acupuncture.

Inviting Qi

APM is a very tactile style of acupuncture. The acupuncturist palpates the body to find active trigger points – hyper-irritated locations within muscles.  “I rely on exploration with my hands and open dialogue with the patient to locate trigger points,” says Mr. Rhudy.

Hitting an active trigger point recreates the symptom in the patient.  For example, the acupuncturist might palpate around the hip/buttocks area, causing the patient to feel pain moving down the leg. 

As trigger points are located, needles are inserted. The muscles either cramp up right away or yield a slow, dull, achy, distending sensation, like the “good” hurt after a massage. This represents the arrival of qi (pronounced “chee”), the Chinese word for vital energy or life force.

Untying Muscular Straightjackets

APM is most effective when the source of dysfunction is myofascial — in the connective tissue that connects to body structures like muscles, organs and bones. “With this style of acupuncture, you’re seeking and untying muscular straightjackets,” says Mr. Rhudy.

APM can help patients with acute pain such as a sports injury.  It also can be effective against chronic pain conditions such as migraines or back problems. 

Janice, a 50-year-old woman with a history of migraines, says APM has been the only treatment that has helped her to be able to turn her head side to side. While she still gets the occasional migraine, they are not as painful as they used to be. “Nothing has fixed me like acupuncture has,” she says.

Restoring Balance

Acupuncturists consider themselves conduits for self-healing, navigating the body to unblock “holding patterns” in muscles and restore balance.  “It’s prodding the body to remember what it feels like to not have these accumulated aches and pains,” Mr. Rhudy explains.

Many patients try acupuncture after exhausting their options with medical doctors. An acupuncturist is not a doctor, so it’s important that patients be thoroughly checked by a physician to confirm they don’t have an underlying disease or condition.

Some people use acupuncture not for medical ailments, but to ease stress and tension. “Patients tell me they think more clearly or feel more relaxed or energized after a session,” says Mr. Rhudy.

Like yoga or tai chi, acupuncture is a discipline and requires commitment, whether short term or long term. And, arguably, a discipline that keeps the body and mind healthy is worth exploring.  Just ask those who got their balance back.

For an acupuncture appointment or questions, please contact Tim Rhudy.