Bell’s Palsy is a very mysterious onset of facial paralysis that causes one side of the face to droop. For now, the medical community still does not have an answer for why it happens, though the current theory is that the herpes virus that lays dormant in most people becomes activated by possibly stress or other physical symptoms and attacks the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII). The standard treatment protocol is prednisone and time. The onset is often very sudden and symptoms pique in two to three days with most people recovering within three months (although a small percentage can have it permanently) . It affects on average around 40,000 people per year in the U.S. and it disproportionately afflicts people with diabetes or respiratory ailments such as flu or cold.
When I studied in Guangzhou, China, I was in both the outpatient and inpatient acupuncture wards. While I was practicing in the outpatient ward, the majority of patients there were being treated for bell’s palsy. I asked the physician why and he said because it’s the only real treatment that works for the condition, even stating that he has had a better success rate with it in addition to prednisone than just prednisone by itself.
Why does acupuncture work so well for the condition? It is because acupuncture works mainly on the nervous and cardiovascular system and bell’s palsy is a nerve-induced disorder. In my own practice, I have treated bell’s palsy with close to 100% success. It takes between 10-12 treatments, but if the patient is willing to come see me for 4-6 weeks at 2-3 visits a week, they will notice progress within the first two weeks. In my opinion, it is necessary for patients to receive acupuncture within the first three months for success and, if at all possible, the first few weeks of symptoms.
As far as research goes, studies are still being published on acupuncture’s effectiveness on bell’s palsy. One study of 96 patients stated a 91.67% success rate with acupuncture plus infrared treatment against a 60.42% success rate of the control group. In another trial, 439 patients from four different hospitals completed the trial and the authors concluded “the effectiveness of treatment in the two treatment groups (acupuncture plus moxibustion) was better than the control group…the efficacy of acu-moxi treatment for Bell’s palsy is verified scientifically”. A meta-analysis of previous trials also concluded the RCTs “showed significant improvements in the acupuncture group”. However, they do note that the number and quality of RCTs are too low and that “further rigorous RCTs are warranted”.
While the research is still lacking, bell’s palsy patients have very limited treatment options and acupuncture is one of them. Trying acupuncture is a wise option for doctors to recommend.