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Bell's Palsy Sequelae and How Acupuncture Can Help



Bell's palsy is a physical condition that affects around 60,000 people in the United States every year. (Yu et al., 2023) It causes muscle weakness, paralysis, and reduced sensation on one side of the face, which can be quite alarming, especially when you wake up to find half your face isn't moving.


While the symptoms may mimic those of a stroke, Bell's palsy is temporary and will mostly resolve itself. However, many people are left with lingering effects known as sequelae, such as:

  • Drooping around the eyes or mouth

  • Reduced facial movement

  • Reduced sensation


In rare cases, there can even be a reoccurrence of the condition, which can be extremely distressing. (Zhang et al., 2019)


In Western medicine, diagnosing Bell's palsy involves:

  1. Ruling out a possible stroke through differential diagnosis

  2. Identifying the preceding events, such as:

  • Viral infections (shingles, chickenpox, severe colds, COVID-19)

  • Bacterial infections causing inflammation

  • Combination of sinus, ear, and/or eye infections

  1. Recognizing other potential causes:

  • Extreme muscle tension in the head and neck region

  • Neck injury


The underlying reason for the paralysis and reduced sensation is typically inflammation impinging on the facial nerve (Cranial Nerve VII), which controls movement on one side of the face. (Sanders, 2010)


However, in many cases, the exact cause remains unknown and is considered "idiopathic."


Common Western treatments include:

  • Antiviral medication

  • Antibiotics (depending on the underlying illness)

  • Corticosteroids

  • In severe cases, surgical decompression of the nerve (Kim, 2020)


With medication alone, the major symptoms often resolve within 3 weeks to several months. But certain underlying health conditions can exacerbate Bell's palsy, such as:

  • Diabetes

  • Autoimmune diseases (Zhang et al., 2019)


And lingering effects like drooping, reduced movement, and numbness may persist, potentially leading to permanent issues. This is where acupuncture becomes a key component in treating residual effects and reducing the likelihood of permanent problems.


The Good News: Acupuncture Offers Effective Treatment


Numerous studies have highlighted the benefits of acupuncture in treating Bell's palsy and its sequelae:

  1. Quicker Recovery and Higher Complete Recovery Rates Research from Korea found that "acupuncture showed its benefits in accelerating recovery and enhancing complete recovery rates." (Choi et al., 2023)

  2. Improved Facial Functions, Even in Chronic Cases A study by Öksüz et al. (2019) states, "In patients receiving acupuncture treatment, the level of positive response to healing was statistically significantly higher...acupuncture was described as effective in improving facial functions even in chronic Bell's palsy."

  3. Reduced Risk of Sequelae With early and consistent acupuncture treatment, the risk of developing lingering effects like drooping or reduced movement can be significantly reduced. (Yu et al., 2023)



The Healing Power of Acupuncture


Acupuncture is highly effective in treating Bell's palsy and its sequelae due to its ability to:

  • Reduce inflammation, a key factor behind the condition (Li et al., 2021)

  • Stimulate nerve regeneration and restore sensitivity (Dimitrova et al., 2017)

  • Address psychological factors contributing to mental and emotional wellness

Unlike Western medicine, which primarily treats the early stages, acupuncture can help reduce sequelae and long-term effects that seriously impact quality of life. (Yu et al., 2023)


The Treatment Process


For best results, acupuncture should be started as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms. In my experience, the following regimen has proven effective:

  • Twice-weekly acupuncture sessions for the first two weeks

  • Once-weekly sessions for the next three weeks

  • Weekly B12 injections at acupuncture points (where available)

A systematic review found that combining acupuncture with B12 injections, especially at acupuncture points, provided "incremental benefit" and a "synergistic effect" compared to acupuncture alone. (Wang et al., 2015)


While treatment duration may vary, this approach has successfully resolved symptoms and eliminated sequelae in several cases I've treated.

Acupuncture can also be beneficial for those already experiencing sequelae, helping to improve muscle tone, motility, reduce facial spasms, and improve nerve conduction.

(Gong et al., 2022; Dimitrova et al., 2017)


For optimal results, consider combining acupuncture with Western treatments like antivirals, antibiotics, or steroids, which has been shown to be the most effective approach. (Zhang et al., 2019)


Remember, patience and consistency are key. With the right treatment plan, complete recovery from Bell's palsy and its lingering effects is possible.


References:


Live with Vitality!

LV Wellness

Mukilteo, WA.



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