So what’s this condition called Bell’s palsy? Well it’s a neurological disease in which there is damage of the facial nerve (known as Cranial Nerve #7 to us health geeks), causing you the inability to smile, wink, whistle, or even close your eyelid on one side of your face. It’s no fun to wake up to half of your face paralyzed and unable to move. It is commonly mistaken for a stroke and may cause someone to seriously panic.
Currently the cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown, however from what researchers suspect it may come from the herpes zoster virus. There are multiple types of herpes virus, and this one is also responsible for shingles and chickenpox. Is this contagious? No. However, the cause still of this condition remains a mystery.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, 40,000 Americans are affected yearly on average, most commonly occurring below 15 years of age or after 60.
It accounts for almost 75% of peripheral facial palsies1.
Bell’s palsy has also been associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, tumors, ear infections, lyme disease, and other various disorders2.
Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy
Symptoms vary from person to person. However, most people will notice facial paralysis of the eyebrows, eyelids, and lips on one side of the face. There may also be a lost of taste, drooling, dryness of the eye which may require an eye patch at night to prevent further damage, and from my personal experience may be shoulder or neck pain on the associated side.
Examining from Chinese Medicine
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective this falls into the category of what we call external wind. All “wind” conditions in Chinese Medicine are related to movement. External wind in Chinese Medicine could be considered viruses, allergens, and other outside factors that affect the immune system. Once the immune defenses are broken, blockage occurs in the meridians leading to dysfunction of facial muscles. Eventually the external factor could eventually disappear or branch off into the system further, causing a different route of internal problems. Acupuncturist study for years to learn about different conditions through Chinese Medicine and what best way to treat the root of the problem.
In all three Bell’s palsy cases that I seen, all three patients suffered from high blood pressure and were the at the young age of 55 and up. In Acupuncture and Tradition Chinese Medicine it is believed that one health problem causes a chain reaction, from one thing leading to another, leading to worse problems. This is why we emphasize on taking care of health problems before they start. It’s the oil change you knew you should have gotten but skipped.
Treatment and Recovery
The recovery time for Bell’s palsy varies but up to 70% of patients fully recover within 6 months without treatment4. Recovery could begin a few weeks, however, some patient may require up to a year or more in order to recover. Some people in rare cases may even require surgery or never heal completely. The key to treatment is to get treated as soon as possible.
Acupuncture is a great therapy for recovery, and my recommendation is the sooner the better.
In a review of 135 randomized controlled studies, cupping therapy was shown to be superior to other treatments alone in patients with herpes zoster and facial paralysis3. Also, according to HealthCMI.com, a recent study showed that acupuncture point LI-4 could benefit the mouth of patients suffering from Bell’s palsy.
Vitamin B6 has also been shown to be beneficial in the recovery process.
Different therapies work for different people. Prevention is key. Take care of your body by eating nutritiously. There are many mind and body exercises that can complement your treatment that need to be a part of your everyday life.
Here are some general tips that may provide you comfort during your recovery.
Meditate fifteen minutes a day
Consuming a well nutritious balance of foods
Consuming room temperature water
Neck, Shoulder, low back, calf, and ankle Stretching
If you exercise protect your eye from debris and dryness! (wear glasses or an eye patch, do exercises such as tai chi or walking.)
If you’d like to learn more:
1. Xia F, Han J, et al. Prednisolone and acupuncture in Bell’s palsy: study protocol for a randomized, controlled trial.
2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 2011. Bell’s palsy Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/bells/detail_bells.htm
3. Kwon HJ, et al. 2011. Acupuncture for sequelae of Bell’s palsy: a randomized controlled trial protocol. 2011; 12: 71
4. Huijuan,C,.Jianping L. Xun L. An Updated Review of the Efficacy of Cupping Therapy. Trials. 2011 Jun 21;
Carlo St. Juste II, MAOM has a background in acupuncture with over 10 years of clinical experience and over 16 years in the Martial Arts. He has worked with various organizations to implement employee wellness programs including The City of West Covina, The City of Brea, Broadcom, USC, American Suzuki, and Pomona College. He is dedicated to promoting integrative health and has seen the benefits of knowledge and implementation first hand.