Written by Dr. David He, RAc, TCMD
Lifepath Wellness Centre
Bell’s palsy is a form of temporary facial paralysis resulting from damage or trauma to the facial nerve. When Bell’s palsy occurs, the function of the facial nerve is disrupted, causing an interruption in the messages the brain sends to the facial muscles. This interruption results in facial weakness or paralysis. Bell’s palsy can affect anyone at any age, however it occurs in people who have diabetes, influenza, the common cold, shingles, an upper respiratory ailment or pregnant women.
Bell’s palsy is named for Sir Charles Bell, a 19th century Scottish surgeon who described the facial nerve and its connection to the condition. The disorder, which is not related to stroke, is the most common cause of facial paralysis. Research has discovered that most cases can be traced to herpes simplex 1, the virus that causes cold sores. The virus infects the seventh cranial (facial) nerve, which helps to control the muscles associated with facial expression. The facial nerve swells and becomes inflamed in reaction to the infection, resulting in facial weakness and paralysis. Bell’s palsy has also been associated with influenza, headaches, chronic middle ear infection, high blood pressure, diabetes, sarcoidosis, tumors, Lyme disease, as well as trauma such as skull fracture or facial injury. Bell’s palsy affects men and women equally and can occur at any age, but it is less common before age 15 or after age 60.
Acupuncture is a health practice and component of Traditional Chinese Medicine; a health care system approach to treating and preventing disease. Practiced for thousands of years, acupuncture has been used to assist in Bell’s Palsy recovery. Recently, acupuncture has gained more attention as an alternative and complementary treatment choice in western culture. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, facial paralysis is known as ‘deviated mouth’ and ascribes this condition to “External Wind-Cold attacking the channels of the face”. One of the main implications of this condition is an underlying qi (a person’s inherent energy) deficiency.
Acupuncture treatment for Bell’s palsy involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the facial skin; or by applying various other techniques to the acupuncture points, bringing about natural healing and to promote physical and emotional well-being. Acupuncture effectively spreads qi through the channels of the face to promote blood and lymph circulation on the side with facial paralysis. This treatment is believed to stimulate the nervous system by influencing the production of hormones and neurotransmitters; ultimately reducing inflammation of the cranial nerve while releasing fascia tissue and tight muscles.
These images support the effectiveness of treating Bell’s palsy with acupuncture. This patient received a series of seven treatments over a three week period. As a result, the patient has regained nearly all muscle function and facial expression.