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  • Writer's pictureDr Bret Ellington DACM, LAc

Bell's Palsy: An Acupuncture and TCM Approach to Healing

I treated a patient with Bell’s Palsy today. It’s a condition that I’ve treated in at least 50 patients and it’s definitely something I feel comfortable treating. Since a lot of people aren’t that familiar with Bell’s Palsy, I thought I’d blog about it and explain what it is and things I find to be effective in treating patients suffering from Bell’s Palsy.

First, Bell’s Palsy is paralysis of one side of a person's face. A stroke can also cause paralysis on one side of the face, but Bell’s Palsy is different and not related to a stroke. Bell’s Palsy will only affect a patient's face, where a stroke may affect a person's entire side of their body, including numbness in the limbs. Also, if someone is having a stroke, they’ll be able to wrinkle their forehead a little, while patients with Bell’s Palsy cannot wrinkle their forehead. This is always a quick way to determine if someone just had a stroke or Bell’s Palsy..

So what causes Bell’s Palsy? There’s no 100% answer to what the cause is, but it’s widely believed that the herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes it. This is the same virus that can cause cold sores. The herpes virus stays dormant in the body and can attack the nerves. In Bell’s Palsy, the virus causes inflammation and attacks on just one side of the face. Stress is also believed to be a mitigating factor too.

When I treat a patient with Bell’s Palsy, I recommend they take some herbs that have an antiviral action, since herpes is a virus. I also recommend taking extra B12 along with a B-complex and increasing their protein intake. These will help to regenerate nerve tissue.

For acupuncture, I like to use some distal acupuncture points on the arms and legs that follow the acupuncture meridians up to the face. I also find that using local acupuncture points on muscle motor points on the face also works great. Adding electro-acupuncture on the local points can also be extremely beneficial.

One last thing I’ve found to be helpful is something called flash-cupping. You may have heard of cupping or fire-cupping. Many athletes get it done to relieve tension in tight muscles. Micheal Phelps helped increase the popularity of cupping when he competed in the 2016 Olympics with cupping marks on his back. Flash cupping doesn’t leave marks. The cup is placed on the skin, where it creates a suction, and immediately removed, creating a popping sound as the cup is pulled away. This process is repeated, creating warmth in the tissue, promoting circulation and stimulating the local nerves. I recommend this modality only be done by a highly trained practitioner.

Most patients can see a fast recovery from Bell’s Palsy. I do recommend a quick and aggressive treatment plan after an episode of Bell’s Palsy. While most cases do heal up quickly, some cases can linger for years and leave permanent damage.

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