Bell’s Palsy is a relatively sudden and temporary paralysis or weakness on one side of the face. Symptoms typically come on without warning over a 48 hour period, at which point they peak, and take several weeks to recede. Full recovery often takes about 6 months. The severity can range from very mild facial paralysis to complete immobility on one side of the face and include other symptoms like twitching, eyelid/mouth drooping, drooling, inability to close one eye, impaired speech/eating, and pain around the jaw or ear.
The facial paralysis experienced in Bell’s Palsy can be confused with stroke symptoms but, although it is important to consult a doctor for a full diagnosis, there are certain key differences in presence or absence of other symptoms that can help telling them apart.
|Lower face paralysis (mouth, cheek, eye)||Always||Often|
|Upper face paralysis (eyebrow, forehead)||Always||Rarely|
|Tongue weakness, speech problems||Often||Often|
|Eye or vision problems||Sometimes||Sometimes|
|Arm or leg weakness, numbness||Never||Often|
|Confusion, difficulty understanding||Never||Sometimes|
|Difficulty with balance or walking||Never||Often|
If you are looking for information about how our clinic can treat other types of facial paralysis, including those seen in strokes, please our page on Facial Paralysis.
What are the most common causes of Bell’s Palsy?
While the specific cause of Bell’s Palsy is not completely understood, it is believed to be due to a swelling or inflammation of the seventh cranial nerve linked with exposure to certain viruses. The herpes simplex virus is most commonly seen in relation to Bell’s Palsy, although the viruses responsible for mononucleosis, certain respiratory illnesses, rubella, mumps, and influenza can also cause this disorder(1).
The seventh cranial nerve helps to enervate the facial muscles allowing us to make a variety of expressions. When this nerve swells, its supply of blood and oxygen is restricted, preventing it from transmitting signals from the brain to the facial muscles, leading to paralysis.
Standard Western medical treatments
In some cases, people with Bell’s Palsy can recover without treatment in several weeks. After several months (commonly about six) many people will experience a full recovery. Standard medical treatments include the use of corticosteroids like prednisone to reduce inflammation, antiviral drugs to shorten the course of the disease, and general pain killers (analgesics) to relieve any pain or discomfort.
Facial massage and other physical therapies can also be included in treatments to reduce pain and exercise the facial muscles to prevent permanent changes.
How can Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture treat Bell’s Palsy?
There are several high quality studies exploring the effect of acupuncture on Bell’s Palsy recovery. Of these studies, patients afflicted with Bell’s Palsy have shown significant improvement when receiving acupuncture. Even more encouraging is that favorable effects were seen with Bell’s Palsy disease response rates when acupuncture was used in conjunction with drug therapy, as opposed to drug therapy alone(2). Acupuncture may help in the treatment of Bell’s Palsy due to:
- Reduced inflammation by influencing immune factors(3)
- Enhancing local micro-circulation by increasing the diameter and speed of blood flow in small blood vessels(4)
- Stimulation of nerves(5)
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Bell’s palsy is often diagnosed as Wind and Cold pathogenic factors attacking the channels of the face, which causes constriction of blood vessels and impedes the functioning of nerves(6). When the body’s own defenses are not able to fight this off, it causes both the paralysis and the pain that most people experience.
Acupuncture treatment will focus on eliminating the pathogenic factors, while improving the circulation of oxygen and blood to the muscles and nerves of the face, in order to regain full muscle function. Regular treatments can greatly speed up recovery of facial muscle function, reduce pain, and guard against long term complications Herbal formulas can also be used to speed up recovery by supporting the body’s immune system and improving the circulation of vitamins and nutrients.
Treatment: What to expect
Acupuncture treatment will use both local and distal points to stimulate healing. Local points on the face in the affected areas encourage blood flow and stimulate nerve function. Distal points, those on the hands and feet, are also used as they are proven to be equally important as face points for the regeneration of nerves and tissues by taking advantage of all the body’s resources.
In addition to traditional acupuncture, and depending on the constitution of the patient, electrical stimulation is added to the acupuncture. This is used in many cases of paralysis to increase the strength of the treatments. This method is similar to the use of TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) in physiotherapy practice, but can be much more specific in it’s action and location. By electrically stimulating needles, the treatment offers a deeper/stronger effect on the affected muscles and nerves, to help regain their proper movement and function
As soon as Bell’s Palsy has been diagnosed it is important to begin acupuncture treatments as soon as possible to ensure the fastest and most complete recovery possible. Regular treatments of two to three times per week are recommended for best results in regaining facial function.
If you or a loved one have be diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, please do not hesitate to contact us to find out if/how Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can benefit you and help you get back to you regular lifestyle. For more information on other forms of facial paralysis, please see this page.