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Can acupuncture help in the recovery of long term bells palsy?

Q:  Can acupuncture assist in the recovery of a long term (over 4 years)bells palsy sufferer?

A:  The BAcC has a factsheet on Bell's Palsy
which makes encouraging noises about what acupuncture can achieve, and there is certainly a huge amount of research literature from China where this is a much higher incidence of the problem. Chinese medicine describes this as a problem to do with 'invasion of wind.' This is rather alien sounding to the western ear, but Chinese medicine is based on a fundamental theory about the flow of energy, called qi, in the body, and what helps and hinders its flow. In Chinese medicine theory external/climate factors are just as relevant and important as internal or material causes, and for an agrarian race exposed to the climate day to day, the idea that the wind as a pervasive force could disrupt the flow is a natural consequence of the thought pattern. In fact, one common cause, before aircon became standard, of Bell's Palsy was driving along motorways on sunny days with the window open for fresh air, and getting a 70mph blast of air on one side of the face. This expert has treated half a dozen people who did this very thing.


The one concern we have, however, is the length of time which you have had the problem. In China problems like this are treated immediately and vigorously, often daily, to expel the pathogen (wind is said to invade, and so needs to be removed) and to restore the flow in the area. Once the patter has settled, however, it becomes more difficult to shift. It is almost as though the body accepts this as a natural state and accommodates it. The Chinese talk about stagnation and stasis of conditions like this where the flow is disturbed for a long time, and it can take a great deal of effort to make things move again.


There is also the question of the backdrop against which it is set. Chinese medicine rarely looks at a symptom in separation from the whole system, and many cases of Bell's Palsy resolve relatively quickly of their own accord. A practitioner will automatically look at the whole system anyway, because that's what we do, but would in particular be interested to see if the healing responses of the body as a whole were compromised in some way, hindering attempts to get local improvement. There would be signs which the practitioner could see but perhaps other aspects of overall health which the patient might not recognise as evidence of a wider pattern, like sleeping badly or having mild digestive problems.


Our best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment of the problem. If you do decide to go ahead with acupuncture treatment, however, we would recommend that you set a finite limit of treatments, perhaps four or five, and set very clear outcome measures and review periods to see whether the problem is improving. It is far too easy to build up a 'treatment habit' where through no-one's fault the clock can run to a dozen sessions or more with no discernible change. We are very keen to ensure that good dialogue is maintained to make the decision to take a longer time a conscious one.     



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