Bell’s Palsy is a neurological condition that involves damage to the seventh cranial nerve, which controls the muscles of the face. Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy are therefore weakness or paralysis to the muscles of the face, and are almost always one-sided. Symptoms sometimes appear suddenly, or sometimes develop over 2-3 days. One side of the face may feel pulled or tight, or droopy and numb. Because of the muscle weakness or paralysis, patients may experience difficulty eating, difficulty closing the eye, mouth drooping, muscle twitching, and problems smiling or frowning. They may also experience dry eye, headache, loss of sense of taste, or facial pain.
Bell’s Palsy has multiple causes, and often the cause is unknown. Known causes include Lyme Disease, Herpes Zoster in the seventh cranial nerve, middle ear infection, and HIV. As the symptoms are believed to be caused by inflammation of the nerve, corticosteroids are often prescribed to reduce inflammation. If the underlying cause is a virus, antivirals can be prescribed to deal with the causal factors.
Some people start to recover from Bell’s Palsy right away, but others retain the facial muscle symptoms for many months. With treatment, most patients make almost a complete recovery. However, even after recovery, patients may still experience minor facial muscle weakness on the affected side, a diminished sense of taste, and spasms or twitches in the eye muscles.
The good news is, acupuncture can help! Acupuncture is especially effective when started in the very early stages of Bell’s Palsy – as close to onset as possible.
Lots of research studies in China have suggested the positive clinical effect of acupuncture for Bell’s Palsy. A systematic review published in this country in 2007 concluded that further research is needed to definitely understand the efficacy of acupuncture for facial palsy, due to a lack of methodologically rigorous clinical trials. However, clinically, we see the benefit of acupuncture treatment for this transient paralysis all the time.
Acupuncture theory understands Bell’s Palsy to be related to pathogenic “wind” in the channels of the face, which causes the paralysis, spasms, weakness, and rigidity. Treatment is therefore focuses on removing this pathogen from the body, as well as stimulating the facial muscles to regain their function. Needles are inserted both locally into the affected muscles, as well as on other parts of the body that correspond to the channels of the face. Chinese Herbal Medicine can also be used to expel the wind and open up the constricted facial channels to help the body regain optimal function. I recommend early treatment with acupuncture to shorten the duration of symptoms and increase the likelihood of a complete recovery without lingering signs of the Bell’s palsy.