Some TCM Explanations of Why Bell’s Palsy Occurs

TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) has demonstrated its efficacy in the treatment of Bell’s palsy both in clinical trials and empirically.


Bell’s palsy, which is also known as idiopathic facial paralysis, is a condition that occurs from inflammation due to an unknown origin that affects the facial nerve causing acute paralysis on one side of the face. This is a disease that can cause much emotional distress due to its overt signs of facial drooping particularly the mouth and eye inflicting low self-esteem and affecting the sufferer’s life experience in a negative way. Not a commonly occurring condition (in about 10,000 people there may be only 2 or 3 people who will develop the disease), Bell’s palsy often resolves by itself after a certain number of months although more extreme cases might require a whole year to recover. There are some sufferers though (about 10% of them) who may be left with permanent facial paralysis. Botulinum toxin, painkillers, massage, anitiviral agents, corticosteroids and surgery are some of the most common conventional treatments used for this condition.

Around the world, Bell’s palsy incidence rates are more or less similar ranging between 21 to 33.5 persons in about 100,000 each year. The disease can strike both male and female. It manifests seasonal variation of incidence with lower amounts of incidence occurring in warmer climates. Most of the Bell’s palsy sufferers have stated that their palsy began to develop in the morning. This implies that the beginning and development of the conditions happens during sleeping time when the circulation of blood is low. There are more Bell’s palsy cases of the right side of the face (64% of the time). Pregnant females (in the last trimester of their pregnancy) and diabetics are high risk groups for this type of condition.

Indications, Signs and Symptoms

-Excess tears
-Facial weakness
-Change in taste
-Sensory loss

Conventional Treatments for Bell’s palsy

Prednisone and other similar corticosteroids are used to lessen inflammation and acyclovir and other antivirals are the most commonly prescribe medications for Bell’s palsy. Extensive studies have been done to ascertain the most effective conventional treatment for Bell’s palsy. The studies concluded that corticosteroids actually do not produce substantive results.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) Bell’s Palsy is called Zhong Feng (literally meaning Wind Attack). The condition is classified as an attack of External Wind Stroke attack with Wind invasion being its main pattern differentiation caused by the stagnation of the meridians. Because of the vacuity, the opportunistic Wind pathogen enters the body and invades the vessels and sinews in the affected region of the face. Blood and Qi stagnation are its end results resulting in the inability of flesh to contract or relax. The aim of TCM treatment is to boost the movement of Blood and Qi by removing stasis and clearing Wind. By vacuity, we mean that there is an inadequacy of Essential Qi in the body of the patient. The modern definition of vacuity is that there is an insufficiency of the required normal physiologic movement, where the normal compensative and regulatory body functions are weakened. Qi, according to TCM terms is the normal compensative and regulative function of the body. The emergence of vacuity is gradual and can be an indication of of overindulgence, stress, overwork, or eating of improper foods that causes Qi to be consumed without properly replacing it.

The nose and the head are usually affected by Wind-Cold attack. The Wind-Cold also invades Defensive Qi of the Lung causing flu-like and/or cold-like symptoms. This parallels the conventional medical notion that the palsy is suspected to be caused by a viral attack. In Bells’ palsy cases, the invading Wind-Cold mainly stays in the meridians of the facial Yang-Ming. The Yang Ming meridians are important since these are the pathways of energy in which Blood and Qi are at their most abundant. A pattern of vacuity appears that weaken the flow of Blood and Qi in a Bell’s palsy condition thus leaving the meridians exposed to injury.

Dominic Sembello is a licensed and board certified acupuncturist and the clinical director of Health Source Acupuncture in Linwood, NJ.

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