Chinese research has demonstrated the effectiveness of acupuncture for Bell’s palsy. In America it is estimated that Bell’s palsy affects 40,000 people per year. It is caused by a dysfunction of the 7th cranial nerve leading to one sided facial paralysis. Bell’s palsy can leave the person with an ability to close the eye and a crooked mouth. In most instances the road to recovery can start after about 3 weeks but can take some months to fully recover. In about 9% of people, it can leave some permanent damage such as tinnitus, loss of taste and spasms. Western researchers are still not sure what causes the nerve to become inflamed but there is a hypothesis that latent viruses like the herpes virus may play a role.
However anti-viral medication does not help and modern medicine still resorts to cortico-steroids for treatment. Steroids are used for many conditions including Bell’s palsy but they have side effects.
Is Chinese medicine an alternative to steroids for Bell’s palsy?
Chinese medicine physicians have been treating Bell’s palsy for thousands of years with acupuncture and Chinese herbs.
Bell’s palsy, acupuncture and research.
Angela Harding, a New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists member practicing in Christchurch, is currently doing a research paper as part of her master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine at the University of Western Sydney. Angela says that research on acupuncture in China is quite different to that done in the west. She said “In China, they already know that acupuncture works for Bell’s palsy so they do research on which acupuncture treatments actually work best for the condition. This is exemplified in the 2013 research done in Hubei by Dr Wei Wang, where it was demonstrated that a specific needling technique gave better results in the outcome for Bell’s palsy recovery”.
The type of needle technique involved in the study referred to what is called stimulating the “de qi”. When the practitioner is focused on obtaining a specific sensation with the needle, the effect can be targeted to regenerate the area needed.
What was the success rate of the acupuncture for Bell’s palsy?
Dr Wang’s results were impressive. 94% of subjects who received the special “de qi” acupuncture treatment had full recovery.
Does acupuncture treat the 7th cranial nerve?
Traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis looks at Bell’s palsy quite differently to that of western medicine, however there are interesting parallels.
Chinese medicine has the view that external environmental wind can penetrate into the acupuncture points on the face and block the meridians. Some of these acupuncture points are located near the distribution of the 7th cranial nerve, and some are not.
Western medicine also says that environmental stress such as wind and cold can be a trigger to activate latent viruses such as the herpes virus that tends to lie dormant around the jaw joint.
Bell’s palsy can be caused by wind.
Western medicine has no treatment aimed at dealing with the environmental stress such as wind. This is unlike acupuncturists, who for example, use acupuncture points that have the traditional known recorded function of removing wind and blockage from the face. Once blockage from the meridians in the face is removed, energy and blood circulation improves which then restores balance and harmony again.
Serena Joe, a member of New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists Inc., who practices full time in Wellington said “It is a well-known fact that Wellington is prone to extreme windy weather and I see a lot of problems that are caused by wind here. This not only includes Bell’s palsy but also emotional problems like irritability, anger and depression. It pleases me that I can help people with acupuncture where other treatments may not have been effective for them”.
There has not been any research done on whether there is a link between an increased incidence of Bell’s palsy in more wind prone areas compared to less windy environments.