Bell’s palsy is a temporary paralysis of the facial nerves. It’s a scary experience to wake up and realize that half your face is numb, your eye is drooping, the corner of your mouth won’t respond. Sometimes there is pain, too.
The cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown. Standard treatment is steroids to reduce inflammation and pain. These don’t restore function, only set the stage for eventual healing. There is no medication that cures it. The good news is that for most people, the paralysis will resolve over 3-6 months. But that is a long time to wait and deal with the fear and embarrassment. For those who time has not healed, there is nothing that Western medicine can offer in the way of options.
Fortunately, acupuncture can help. In my clinical experience, acupuncture can rapidly restore a significant level of movement with 3-5 treatments. The sooner a patient comes in after Bell’s palsy starts, the quicker the healing and the fewer treatments needed.
Let me give you examples. One patient, in her mid-fifties, came in 2 weeks after the onset of symptoms. An ER visit, a visit to the doctor, and the advice was the same: rest, there’s nothing you can do, just wait for improvement. The droop was significant and obvious, and she was having trouble sleeping because of pain and her inability to close her eye (taping it closed wasn’t doing much for her). After a short intake, assessing her pulses and asking about locations of pain, we started the treatment. She had never had acupuncture before, and was concerned about pain, but was willing to try anything to help. After the first three needles, she relaxed, because her reaction was “They don’t hurt at all!” During a Bell’s Palsy treatment, the needles go mainly in the face and ears, with a few body points to help with the anxiety and fear that most patients have about the palsy. Within 15 minutes she was asleep. After an hour of treatment, she noticed that she actually had sensation on the numb part of her face, she could close her eye about 80% of the way, and the droop lifted by 50%. After the second treatment, her eye closed 90%, the droop lifted to 80%, and 50% of her feeling was back. She also mentioned she was sleeping well. After the third and final treatment, her eye closed 95%, the droop was 90% better, and 80% of her feeling was back. The course of treatment was 1.5 weeks, a significantly shorter period than 3-6 months.
A second patient, in her 80s, came in 5 months after the initial onset of Bell’s palsy. Her prognosis was poor. She had been to 5 doctors, had taken anti-inflammatories, anti-virals, and done physical therapy. Nothing worked, and she had not improved at all. The doctors did not have much hope of any kind of improvement after 5 months. As a former nurse, she was skeptical of acupuncture but was willing to try anything. She was moving out of state in 3 weeks, and wanted to make the move easier if possible. Her total course of treatment was 5 visits, and she experienced an improvement of 85% in eye closing, 65% in facial and mouth droop, and regained 70% of her facial feeling. She also reported that the needles didn’t work, and felt better emotionally after each treatment. Treatment took longer and improvement was slower because she had had the palsy for 5 months. She reports that the move went well, and continued to see improvement even after treatment ended.
Acupuncture for Bell’s palsy is more effective and works quicker the sooner treatment starts. However, it still works for patients with poor prognosis; it just takes longer and requires more treatment.
There is hope for people who suffer from Bell’s palsy. Acupuncture can improve feeling, restore function, help calm the emotional upset and improve sleep. If you are suffering from Bell’s call an acupuncturist and get effective healing as soon as possible.