*If you are looking for Bell’s Palsy or Stroke information please see our other pages.
Facial paralysis is commonly seen as a loss of muscle movement or weakness in the muscles of one side of the face due to damage of the facial nerve. Like a burn, there are three degrees of damage that can happen to the facial nerve:
- First degree injury: a bruise to the nerve that will heal relatively quickly (about eight weeks)
- Second degree injury: more severe and will begin to heal after several months
- Third degree injury: involves significant damage, healing is very slow and always incomplete
In addition to losing control of the facial muscles, there can also be symptoms like loss of taste, an inability to control salivation, and reduced sensations in the skin of the face.
What are the most common causes of facial paralysis?
The main cause of facial paralysis is temporary or permanent damage to the facial nerve (also called cranial nerve seven) causing enervation of half of the face to fail, leaving it droopy. There are several different specific causes for facial paralysis, Bell’s Palsy being the most common. Others include:
- Surgical damage
- Bacterial infections
- Physical trauma to the head
- Neurological conditions
- Abnormal development or birth trauma
- Genetic conditions (rare)
*Although facial paralysis is associated with stroke, the mechanism is different. Non-stroke related facial paralysis is caused by direct damage to the facial nerve, while in stroke cases the brain is damaged and cannot send signals to the facial nerve, which often has no problems of its own.
Standard Western medical treatments
There are a number of treatment options for facial paralysis depending on the original cause of the nerve damage. Steroid medications (corticosteroids) are commonly prescribed in Bell’s Palsy, while other medications to treat the associated cause are prescribed on a case by case basis. In mild cases the nerve will gradually heal by itself and managing the symptoms (usually eye related) is the primary concern. This can include wearing protective glasses, using eye drops or ointments, and taping the eye shut at night.
For severe traumas that cause significant damage to the facial nerve, surgical reconstruction is often recommended. Nerve grafts, nerve transpositions, muscle grafts, and face lifts can all be part of such procedures. Unfortunately, when nerve damage has progressed to that point, there is unavoidable and permanent injury in most cases.
How can Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture treat facial paralysis?
The approach that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes to treat facial paralysis is similar to Bell’s Palsy, but the key diagnostic method is differentiating the syndrome that has caused the face to become paralysed. Paralysis of the face might be the most obvious external sign of an internal problem in the body, so to ensure as full a recovery as possible a TCM treatment must address any imbalances, deficiencies, or excesses in order to restore function to the facial nerve and muscles. In TCM, some of the most common differentiations for facial paralysis are:
- An external pathogen blocking the channels and collaterals, either preventing the facial nerve from signalling properly or preventing blood and oxygen from nourishing the whole face.
- Qi deficiency and blood stasis, meaning that while the pathways to the face might be clear there is not enough blood or oxygen to fill them properly, leaving the face malnourished.
How can Acupuncture help treat facial paralysis?
An acupuncture treatment for facial paralysis will include a combination of local points on the face and distal points on the arms and legs. The amount of each will vary by person depending on whether the underlying cause of the paralysis is in the face or located in a deeper level of the body. Modifications will also be made to address specific issues like failure of the eye to close completely, drooping of the mouth, painful or tingling sensations, or other symptoms the patient is concerned about.
Treatment for paralysis of any part of the body usually involves electro-acupuncture to help stimulate the muscles and nerves in the paralyzed area. For facial paralysis, the stimulation will be of points on the face and will induce slight twitching.
In milder cases that are treated immediately, patients will often experience a full recovery of sensorimotor function in their face. For traumatic injuries or other severe cases, regular and consistent treatment for several months is necessary to ensure as much functional recovery as possible.
If you or a loved one are living with facial paralysis, please do not hesitate to contact us to find out if/how Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can benefit you.