Acupuncture for Bell’s Palsy

In many parts of China, Bell’s palsy is quite common. This is particularly true in the province of Guangzhou where local doctors are compelled to come up with truly effective forms of treatment.  Most of these forms of therapy involve the use of acupuncture.

Bell’s Palsy – The Eastern Medical Perspective

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the overall well-being of a person is due to the normal unimpeded flow of the person’s vital energy in the body called qi or chi. Chi travels throughout the body via energy pathways called meridians. When some of these meridians develop obstructions or blockages, chi flow slows down resulting in disease or pain. Acupuncture is a mode of treatment that uses sterilized hair-thin needles inserted into specific acupuncture points that helps remove the blockages in the meridians to restore the normal flow of chi in the patient’s body.

The term of Bell’s palsy in Chinese is Zhong Feng which literally means “Wind Attack.”  TCM practitioners think that Bell’s palsy comes about when Cold and Wind affect the tendons, muscles and meridians of the face. This often occurs when the body’s defenses and immune system are weak. This can imply that the person may be experiencing a flu or cold. Blood and chi flow to the face becomes blocked causing the facial tendons and muscles to be deprived of energy and nourishment. Blood and chi deficiency symptoms in TCM can include tingling, numbness and muscle paralysis or weakness. These symptoms stem from the irritation of the facial nerve, specifically, the 7th cranial nerve.

The first aim of acupuncture is to better the flow of blood and chi and dispel the invasion of Wind-Cold from the meridians to restore muscle and nerve function and to nourish the muscles. When the contraction of the muscles improves, the next goal of the therapy is to boost the defenses of the body and strengthen the patient’s immune system.

The initial step in acupuncture therapy is to insert needles into acupuncture points at the back of the head and the face to remove the Cold and Wind. The points to be chosen for treatment are based anatomically to the paralyzed facial muscles. Additional points are to be treated if the patient has a medical or family history of Bell’s palsy.

Besides traditional acupuncture other TCM approaches like cupping and electroacupuncture can be used to treat Bell’s palsy. Cupping is often combined with traditional or other forms of acupuncture. Electroacupuncture is a form of acupuncture that involves the stimulation of acupuncture needles to boost the therapeutic effect of acupuncture. This modality is often applied in more severe or chronic cases.

People at Risk Developing Bell’s Palsy

About 40,000 people in the United States develop Bell’s palsy each year based on the statistics gathered by the National Institutes of Health.  This condition seems to equally affect women and men. The people at high risk in developing Bell’s palsy include those with upper respiratory disorders such as the cold or the flu among others, diabetics and pregnant women. A growing number of evidence seems to indicate that Bell’s palsy may be caused by latent chicken pox virus (herpes zoster virus) and the herpes simplex virus type 1.

Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy

The first sign of Bell’s palsy is a sudden facial weakening coming on within the first 2 days. The difficulty or inability to wrinkle the nose or brow, puff out the cheeks, or close the eye are its main symptoms. Either a decrease or increase in drooling or tearing can likewise occur.  There may be times when pain is felt in the jaw or ear or when the ear becomes very sensitive to sound. Due to the numbness and/or muscle weakness, functional activities such as drinking and eating may become quite complicated to do. These impairments and difficulties can be very hard for the sufferer regardless of the severity of the paralysis and the degree of compression or irritation of his/her facial nerve.

Eva Paglialonga is a licensed acupuncturist and massage therapist in Miami, FL and the medical director of Needles and Moxa Wellness Center.

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