The first time I treated Bell’s Palsy, that I can remember, was shortly after I was granted my License to perform Acupuncture. A month after receiving that license, I went to China to do a second internship there. Acupuncture in China is set up differently than in the U.S. Whereas in the U.S. hospitals, we have differing departments: Respiratory Therapy Department, Laboratory, Physical Therapy Department, etc., in China, they have the same, plus the Acupuncture Department. Whereas in the U.S. we have a drug pharmacy, they have the same, plus an herbal pharmacy. When given a medication prescription, they are also given an herbal prescription at the same time.
So, I worked in the Acupuncture Department of a large hospital. It was situated so that people who were not in the hospital could come in for treatment, and hospitalized patients would be brought to the acupuncture department, or we would go their bedside to administer treatments. In 1989 when I worked at this hospital in Beijing, a young man in his mid-20’s came in for treatment for Bell’s Palsy. He was assigned to me. Whether it was his choice to be assigned to an American that didn’t speak his language, or assigned by the Fourth Generation Acupuncturist I was interning under, I don’t know. But the results were fabulous! All were happy. To show his gratitude, he gave me a sweet little knick-knack that I accepted out of kindness. I later learned that while it would have hardly touched my pocketbook if I had bought it, it represented a full month’s worth of income for him! I still have it.
Bell’s Palsy is a condition where the muscles in the face suddenly weaken and half of the face droops. It is said to be the result of inflammation of the facial nerve. But what causes that is still debated. Some say it is caused by impingement of the 7th cranial nerve, which can be helped by Chiropractors, while others say it is not in the neck but in the face. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a correlation has been found with an excess of cold wind (think air conditioners) hitting the face. In fact, I have seen more patients begin having facial paralysis after flying. When I question if they had the plane’s air blowing on their face, the majority have said yes, and that’s when it started. But there also has to be some other underlying weakness that combines to cause paralysis of that nerve. Many people fly on planes and have the a/c blowing on their face, but never get Bell’s Palsy from it. This is where a good acupuncturist does the discovery work to find out why. What combined against that person to cause this?
While Bell’s Palsy many times resolves in a few weeks, there are cases that never go away. Acupuncture works by reducing the inflammation surrounding the nerve and to increase blood flow to the area. This can speed up the recovery significantly. I feel blessed to have been able to make a difference in patients suffering from Bell’s Palsy, and will always remember that first wonderful outcome.
©2022 Holly A. Carling, O.M.D., L.Ac., Ph.D.