Bells Palsy can be a very frightening experience for people, as the symptoms mimic that of a stroke. Always go and see a medical doctor for a diagnosis first. Once you have your diagnosis, call your acupuncturist! Acupuncture can be very helpful and rapid for a persons recovery. The sooner you go for your first treatment, the faster it resolves and the better the longer term result. In the first week frequent visits are necessary. These are the spaced out depending on progress.
Lets first describe what Bells Palsy is and then as always some of the science.
Bells Palsy is a rapid, one sided weakness to paralysis of the face, that happens suddenly. It can then progressively worsen over the following 48 hours. It is a temporary condition. Generally, it is slow to heal taking 2 weeks, 1 month or even 6 months on average. The more severe it is the longer it takes to heal using a medicated approach. Occasionally it is permanent.
The treatment is usually a course of steroids, prescribed by your GP or a hospital doctor. There is ample evidence to support it's effectiveness (1). The steroids have to be taken within days of the first symptoms occuring. Of course, the people we see as acupuncturists are generally those that it hasn't worked for. I would strongly suggest you consider using both concurrently, if you are taking perscribed steroids. There is no negative interaction between the two. Sometimes, the person simply does not want to take steroids because of their potential side effects. That is a discussion they have with their doctor first. The other people we see, are our clients that have been visiting our clinics regularly for different issues. Their faith in acupuncture is not blind faith, it is experiential with very positive results for them.
Anti virals have not been found to be beneficial (2), even though a viral infection may be the cause of the Bells Palsy. Surgery that was used previously to relive pressure on the facial nerve is not recommended, because of the risks in having the surgery.
The precise reason Bell's Palsy occurs isn't clear. It's often preceded by having a viral infection. There are at least 8 viruses that have been associated with Bells Palsy. There is also a list of other chronic health issues and traumas that can be associated with a person having Bells Palsy. Finally, there is thought to be a genetic component in some cases, where there is a family history and the person has repeated attacks.
It's believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face. The facial nerve controls a complex array of functions, so when it is damaged, the symptoms can vary in type and severity.
Signs are extensive and a person does not necessarily experience all of these. They can be very mild or severe Change in the ability to taste Difficulty speaking Dizziness Drooling Eye or mouth dryness Excessive watering in one eye Headache Hypersensitivity to sound Pain in the jaw or behind the ear Ringing in the ears Trouble eating or drinking
There are various studies showing the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for Bells Palsy. Some of them recommend, electroacupuncture (3), which involves a very mild electric current between needles, which is not a painful process. This study suggest it as an add on to medication and physio. I personally have found Distal Needling Acupuncture very effective for people. It does not necessitate any needles in the face or electric current. Distal simply means away from the problem area. I have used electro acupuncture in the past and observed many treatments using electroacupuncture. All were very effective. The enormous relief it brings to people is understandably pure joy or very emotional.
There is a beauty in using two systems of medicine and the results of using both together, can improve a persons outcome dramatically (4). In some countries it is routine, to use the strengths of both Western Medicine and East Asian Medicine. Perhaps, if there wasn't a hierarchical view towards medicine, by some, there would be potential for a lot of money to be saved in healthcare, and enormous benefits to the taxpayer. A system where choice is accessible to everyone, would be very welcome by many people.
Seek immediate medical help if you experience any type of paralysis because you may be having a stroke. Bell's palsy is not caused by a stroke, but it can cause similar symptoms.
Written by Sinead Dee On the Pulse Clinics