Understanding Acupuncture as a Treatment for Bell’s Palsy

acupuncture for bells palsy edmonton west

Bell’s palsy is a neurological condition that suddenly impairs facial muscles, often leading to temporary paralysis. While the exact cause remains a mystery, the impact on daily life can be significant. In this blog post, we explore the symptoms, assessment, and available treatment options, with a focus on how acupuncture for Bell’s palsy can help enhance recovery. 

Understanding Bell’s palsy

Bell’s palsy is a neurological condition that results in temporary, and sometimes lasting, paralysis of the facial muscles. Typically impacting one side of the face, it often leads to significant changes in facial appearance and function. While the exact cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown, risk factors include:

  • Viral Infections: Conditions like herpes simplex virus and influenza are frequently implicated in the development of Bell’s palsy, likely due to their impact on the nervous system.
  • Autoimmune Reactions: The body’s immune response mistakenly targeting facial nerves can lead to inflammation and swelling, resulting in paralysis.
  • Environmental and Health Factors: Exposure to cold, high stress levels, and underlying health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension are known risk factors.

How common is Bell’s palsy?

Every year, this condition affects approximately 11-40 people per 100,000. It accounts for about 50% of all cases of facial nerve palsy, making it the most common cause of facial paralysis. While it can occur at any age, the condition most frequently affects people between the ages of 15 and 60. 

Symptoms to look for

The onset of Bell’s palsy is rapid, and its symptoms can be distressing:

  • Facial Asymmetry: The most prominent symptom of Bell’s palsy is facial asymmetry, where one side of the face droops or becomes stiff. This can affect the smile and other natural facial expressions, making it difficult for affected individuals to express emotions visibly. The drooping may also extend to the eyebrow, causing a noticeable difference from the unaffected side.
  • Eye Protection Issues: Perhaps one of the most concerning symptoms is the inability to blink or fully close the eyelid on the affected side, known as lagophthalmos. This condition leaves the eye exposed and susceptible to dryness, irritation, and corneal scratches or ulcers. You may experience excessive tearing as the eye tries to compensate for dryness, or conversely, dry eyes due to reduced tear production.
  • Eating and Speaking Difficulties: Bell’s palsy can impair the control of facial muscles necessary for eating and speaking. People often struggle with drooling, difficulty keeping food and liquids inside the mouth, and articulating words. This can lead to challenges in social situations, affecting the individual’s confidence and quality of life.
  • Sensory Disturbances: Some individuals may experience altered sensation or mild pain around the jaw or behind the ear on the affected side. Changes in taste perception, particularly a reduction in the ability to taste sweetness and saltiness, can also occur.
  • Hearing Sensitivity: Hyperacusis, or increased sensitivity to sound, can affect the ear on the paralyzed side, making normal environments uncomfortably loud or even painful.

Comprehensive diagnosis of Bell’s palsy

Diagnosing Bell’s palsy involves excluding other causes of facial paralysis through a series of tests:

  • Medical History Analysis: Understanding the individual’s complete health background to identify potential triggering events.
  • Neurological Examination: Assessing the extent of nerve damage and the specific muscles affected.
  • Reflex Testing: Certain facial reflexes may be tested to distinguish Bell’s palsy from other neurological disorders. This involves checking for automatic movements in response to stimuli, which can indicate whether the facial nerve’s functionality is intact.

Managing Bell’s palsy with acupuncture

While there is no ‘cure’ for Bell’s palsy, it is possible to manage this condition and the symptoms associated with it. Acupuncture is a key component in the multidisciplinary approach to treating Bell’s palsy, offering several benefits that support nerve recovery and muscle function.

  • Enhancing nerve function: By stimulating nerve pathways, acupuncture can help restore muscle tone and facial symmetry.
  • Reducing inflammation: Targeted needling reduces local inflammation, promoting recovery.
  • Stress relief: Acupuncture is known for its ability to lower stress, which is crucial since stress can exacerbate symptoms.
  • Frequency and duration: Treatment frequency might start with multiple sessions per week, tapering off as symptoms improve. The total duration of therapy varies but often extends for several weeks or even months.
  • Tailored techniques: Depending on the individual’s response, techniques may vary. The important thing is to have a personalized treatment plan that caters to your unique case.

Identifying the most effective treatment for Bell’s palsy

Determining the most effective treatment for Bell’s Palsy can be challenging, as it is a condition diagnosed by exclusion and varies widely from person to person. While no single treatment is universally “best,” acupuncture has emerged as a highly beneficial adjunctive therapy. Research (research article 2 and article 3) supports its use in enhancing rehabilitation outcomes, especially when initiated early in the course of the condition. 

Comprehensive treatment strategies

Bell’s palsy requires a comprehensive and customized treatment approach. That means collaborating closely with your primary physician to develop a personalized care plan tailored to your specific needs. This plan typically includes:

  • Acupuncture: Utilized to complement traditional treatments, acupuncture supports overall nerve health and aids in faster recovery.
  • Home Exercise Programs: Specific exercises designed to strengthen facial muscles and improve symmetry and function.
  • Regular Assessments: Ongoing evaluations to monitor progress and adjust treatment as needed, ensuring continuous improvement without setbacks.

Activities and habits to avoid with Bell’s palsy

Managing Bell’s palsy involves not just treatment but also understanding and avoiding certain activities and habits that can exacerbate the condition or hinder recovery. Here are crucial things to avoid:

  • Excessive Facial Movements: While gentle facial exercises may be recommended by a healthcare provider, excessive or aggressive movements should be avoided. Trying to force expressions such as wide smiles or frowns can strain weakened muscles and potentially worsen asymmetry or delay recovery.
  • Neglecting Eye Care: One of the significant risks with Bell’s palsy is the inability to fully close the eyelid, leading to potential eye damage. Avoiding proper eye care can result in dryness, irritation, or more serious issues. It is essential to use prescribed eye drops regularly and consider using an eye patch as needed to protect the eye.
  • Poor Dietary Habits: Diet plays a crucial role in recovery. Avoiding a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients can slow down the recovery process. Particularly, it’s important to avoid low intake of vitamins B12, B6, and zinc, which are vital for nerve health and regeneration.
  • Smoking and Alcohol Consumption: Smoking can impair blood circulation, reducing the flow of oxygen and nutrients necessary for nerve repair. Similarly, excessive alcohol consumption can negatively impact nerve health and overall recovery. Both should be avoided during the recovery phase.
  • High Stress Levels: Stress is a known factor that can complicate the recovery from any illness, including Bell’s palsy. High levels of stress can affect the body’s ability to heal effectively, so it is crucial to avoid stressful situations and utilize stress reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.
  • Ignoring Professional Advice: Failing to follow the treatment plan outlined by healthcare professionals, skipping treatment sessions, or discontinuing treatments prematurely can hinder progress. Regular follow-ups are essential for monitoring recovery and adjusting treatments as necessary.
  • Cold Exposure: Sudden exposure to cold can exacerbate symptoms of Bell’s palsy. Individuals should avoid environments that are too chilly or drafty and should protect their faces from cold winds when outdoors.
  • Sleep Deprivation: Adequate rest is vital for recovery. Lack of sleep can weaken the immune system and reduce the body’s healing capability. Ensure a regular sleep schedule and create a comfortable, conducive sleeping environment.

Get your smile back

Bell’s palsy can be a challenging condition, but with comprehensive strategies including acupuncture, many see significant improvements in symptoms and quality of life. At CURA Physical Therapies in Edmonton West, our team is dedicated to providing personalized care plans to ensure optimal recovery and health management. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and learn more about how our personalized treatment plans can help you on your journey to recovery.

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