Bell's palsy is a mononeuropathic condition that affects the facial muscles. It is characterized by the rapid onset of paralysis or lack of control of facial muscles. Although it usually occurs on only one side of the face, about 1% of cases involve complete facial paralysis. Also known as idiopathic facial paralysis, the onset of Bell's palsy is the result of a dysfunction in cranial nerve VII. This dysfunction is thought to be caused by inflammation and swelling in the facial nerve which leads to inhibition, damage, or even death of the nerves.
Although serious, Bell's palsy is a treatable condition with early detection and treatment leading to the highest probability of restoring nerve function. Generally, doctors will prescribe corticosteroids as a means of facilitating recovery. Another option that may be considered is surgery, especially for patients who continue to be affected by the condition even after being medicated. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and acupuncture in particular, has also been used to treat Bell's palsy.
TCM encompasses a wide range of medical practices in the Chinese medical system, and according to archeological evidence, has been practiced as far back as the stone ages.
Acupuncture is a treatment that involves the insertion and manipulation of needles into precise points on the body. The idea behind the placement of these needles is to direct the flow of qi, or life energy, and blood. It is believed that disease is caused by stagnation that stimulating the movement of qi or blood will improve the problematic condition.
Acupuncture has been used on numerous occasions to improve and even reverse the condition of a patient suffering from Bell's palsy. According to Fay-Meling von Moltke Pao who holds a Doctorate in Acupuncture, the severity of the condition affects the extent and time it takes for the patient to recover. In TCM, it is believed the Bell's palsy is caused by exposure to wind which, coupled with a deficient immune system, can cause inflammation in the affected area and obstruct the qi. Six papers (Zhang, Wei et al. 1991; Xing, Yang et al. 1994; Zang 1999; Stone 2002; Wolfe 2003; He, Zhou et al. 2004) detailed three studies including a total of 238 people conducted in China found that acupuncture combined with medication provided better results than medication alone.
TCM practitioners will generally prescribe a combination of herbs and acupuncture to clear up the blockage and restore movement to the patient's face. Specifically, the needles are inserted into points that would eliminate the wind aspect in the Shaoyang and Yangming channels of the body and encourage the flow of qi. Because it is believed that Bell's palsy is also the result of a poor immune system, the patient would be encouraged to improve their immune functions by maintaining a healthy lifestyle that included rest, stress reduction, and a nutritious diet.
The main benefit of using TCM and acupuncture to treat Bell's palsy is the fact that it is designed to work with the body's natural ability to heal itself. People who are leery of using medications, like steroids which can have harmful side effects, may want to consult with a local TCM practitioner to see if this treatment is right for them.