Acupuncture for Bell’s Palsy

The current gold standard of treatment for Bell’s Palsy is corticosteroids – a strong anti-inflammatory medication. This is the pharmacological treatment that has the most data demonstrating benefit. Commonly, antiviral medications can be helpful. There is less evidence that antiviral medications are beneficial as compared to corticosteroids. Additionally, there are facial exercises and a hyperbaric chamber as therapeutic options. All show promising benefits.

So how does the evidence for acupuncture stack up? Electroacupuncture affects both the nervous system and functions like an anti-inflammatory. It also stimulates pain reducing endorphins and cytokines in the nerves. From research, there is emerging evidence that both acupuncture and electroacupuncture help. The majority of the evidence is found in randomized controlled trials. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough data at the meta-analysis level. So our understanding of acupuncture’s role is ongoing – no different than the use of a hyperbaric chamber, facial exercises, or antiviral medications. 

Even though acupuncture research on Bell’s Palsy is emerging there remains clear evidence that it can help. It is perfectly reasonable that electroacupuncture would work effectively for Bell’s Palsy.  Its mechanism is so similar to that anti-inflammatory steroids medications. 

What is Bell’s Palsy?

Bell’s Palsy is a facial paralysis that commonly affects one side of the face. In some very rare cases both sides of the face can be paralyzed or even weakened. The exact causes of Bell’s Palsy remains a mystery. Viral infections (like cold sores, chickenpox, mononucleosis, flu… etc) can trigger an episode. Also there are predisposing factors like pregnancy or diabetes that can increase the risk of developing the paralysis. If you are concerned that you might have Bell’s Palsy it is important to be seen right away by a qualified medical professional since facial paralysis can also occur during a stroke. The medical staff at a hospital are equipped to help diagnose your facial paralysis.

How long does Bell’s Palsy facial paralysis last?

Most people regain 85% of their facial movement within 3 weeks. Full recovery will often take 3 to 5 months though some symptoms may become permanent. Treatments for Bell’s Palsy should help to restore normal movement as quickly as possible, prevent progression to permanent facial paralysis, reduce the development of motor synkinesis (inappropriate facial contractures), and prevent eye injury.

How many treatments are necessary?

There are a variety of factors that can cause treatment to be less successful. By far the most limiting is waiting too long to get treatment. The sooner you can start getting treatment the better.  In the clinic, when I work with a patient who has an episode of Bell’s Palsy, it is ideal to do treatments every day if possible. When we start to see improvement I will change the frequency of appointments. Typically a course of treatment is around twelve visits but that can vary depending on age and the cause.

Dr. Mark VanOtterloo is a licensed acupuncturist and Doctor of Acupuncture, located in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He is an integrative, functional medicine practitioner specializing in chronic disease and women’s health. To learn more about how acupuncture can help with your Bell’s Palsy schedule an appointment online.