Bell’s Palsy is a form of facial paralysis or weakness on the face. It usually occurs on one side of the face; however, in rare cases, it can affect both sides.
It is advised that the condition will resolve itself within a few weeks to months. However, it may also linger and be unresponsive to standard treatments. Therefore leading to long term disfigurement.
It results from the dysfunction of cranial nerves. Specifically cranial nerve VII, the facial nerve. This facial nerve is responsible for the movement of muscles on the face, including facilitating facial expressions such as smiling, controlling the eye for blinking and shutting the eye. It also sends signals to the tear glands, the salivary glands and taste sensations from the tongue.
What are the symptoms?
Damage to the facial nerve can lead to many problems due to the complexity of its functions. Bell’s Palsy can present differently from person to person and depends on the severity of the paralysis. The most common symptom is sudden weakness of one side of the face. Other symptoms can include:
- Inability to close eye (causing dry eyes)
- Excessive tearing of the eye
- Drooping of the mouth
- Pain behind the ear or jaw
- Abnormal sensation
- Altered taste
- Noise sensitivity
- Ringing in the ears
- Sensitivity to wind
- Facial distortion
Impaired functioning of the facial muscles can affect the daily activities such as drinking, eating and speaking. Additionally, the effect on facial symmetry frequently determines a person’s appearance and attraction. And so asymmetry can also affect psychological and social aspects.
What causes Bell’s Palsy?
The official cause of Bell’s Palsy is unknown. What is known is that there is swelling and inflammation of the cranial nerve. And it is the swelling and the inflammation that causes the restriction of blood and oxygen to the nerve cells. Which then results in damage to the nerve.
Evidence suggests that the swelling and inflammation may be caused by a latent herpes virus. Which can be triggered by factors that impair the immunity such as stress, sleep deprivation, overwork, physical trauma, illness or autoimmune conditions.
Standard Western Medicine Treatments for Bell’s Palsy
In some cases, people with Bell’s Palsy can make a full recovery within several weeks to several months. Western Medicine treatments use corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, antiviral drugs to shorten the course of the disease and painkillers to relieve any pain.
After the onset of Bell’s Palsy, there might be the need for lubricating eye drops or eye patches. This is due to the eyelid not being able to close therefore leaving the eye exposed to irritation and drying out.
How can Acupuncture treat Bell’s Palsy?
Acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for Bell’s Palsy, either as a stand alone treatment or with drug therapy. The effects of Acupuncture for Bell’s Palsy acts on improving the facial nerve function and stiffness following an attack(1). The evidence supports that Acupuncture can accelerate the repair of facial nerve injury(2).
Directly following the onset of Bell’s Palsy, Acupuncture is able to reduce the inflammation and swelling of the facial nerve(2). Not only can it calm down the aggressiveness of the attack, it also prevents damage to the facial nerve and research shows that there is less cell death in the nerve in Acupuncture groups(2).
In the later stages, the treatment differs to reestablish the activity between the facial nerve and the facial muscles. As measured by electromyography (EMG), the electrical activity in muscles improved with Acupuncture therapy(3). This leads to improved facial expressions and movements.
What to expect?
As with most neurological conditions, it is more favourable for Bell’s Palsy treatment in the earlier stages. However, in later stages, it is still an effective treatment. Acupuncture can influence facial nerve function positively even after long periods following the onset of Bell’s Palsy(1).
For the best outcomes, a commitment to 2-3 treatments a week in the initial few weeks is required. An individual treatment plan will be drawn up by your Acupuncturist depending on the severity and duration of your condition.
Chinese Herbal Medicines may also be prescribed to support and enhance the therapeutic effects of your Acupuncture treatments. These aim to help further clear any inflammation and invigorate circulation to the facial area. As well as addressing any underlying immunity weaknesses and contributing factors that led to the initial attack of Bell’s Palsy.
- Kwon, H., Choi, J., Lee, M., Kim, Y., Shin, B. and Kim, J., 2015. Acupuncture for the sequelae of Bell’s palsy: a randomized controlled trial. Trials, 16.
- Li, L., Fei, J., Gao, L., Li, H. and Yuan, Q., 2019. Electroacupuncture promotes peripheral nerve regeneration after facial nerve crush injury and upregulates the expression of glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor. Neural Regeneration Research, 14, p.673.
- Öksüz, C., Kalaycıoğlu, A., Uzun, Ö., Kalkışım, Ş., Zihni, N., Yıldırım, A. and Boz, C., 2019. The Efficacy of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Bell’s Palsy Sequelae. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, 12(4), pp.122-130.