Needles For Bell's Palsy

Intense acupuncture may be the solution for sudden paralysis of the face

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Acupuncture has been used to treat many conditions, from chronic pain to joint pain to headaches. A stronger technique may produce stronger results.

A recent study compared the use of strong acupuncture to weak acupuncture for the treatment of Bell's palsy, a nerve disorder that affects muscle movement in the face. 

Patients who had intense stimulation through acupuncture regained more muscle movement of the face, reduced disability and improved quality of life.

Those who had stronger intensity acupuncture experienced even greater therapeutic effects.

"See an experienced and licensed acupuncturist."

Wei Wang, MD, PhD, of the Laboratory of Neurological Diseases of Chinese Ministry of Education, and colleagues studied 338 patients with Bell's palsy in 11 hospitals in China. All study participants experienced weakness of the facial nerve on one side of the body with no known cause.

Bell's palsy is usually temporary and resolves itself within weeks or months. In some cases, the condition is permanent.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of needles into specific points of the body to relieve pain and promote health. It is thought to work by improving the body's energy flow along meridian lines or energy channels throughout the body.

Of the 338 Bell's palsy patients, 167 were assigned to receive strong acupuncture designed to stimulate de qi and 171 were assigned to a control group. The control group received a weak version of acupuncture that was not intended to stimulate de qi.

De qi is a sensation sometimes described as tingling, fullness, warmth or heaviness that is generated when the proper point along the meridian is stimulated. Sometimes manipulation techniques like shaking, trembling or plucking of the needle are used to elicit de qi.

De qi is believed to be a key player in achieving optimum therapeutic benefits from acupuncture.

All treatment was performed by acupuncturists with more than 10 years of professional experience.

The acupuncturists explained de qi to both groups before treatment began. The treatment included five acupuncture sessions lasting 30 minutes for four weeks, in addition to 14 days of treatment with prednisone, a steroid commonly used to treat Bell's palsy.

The group receiving strong acupuncture were monitored for the presence of de qi. Needles were manipulated if the patient did not feel the effect. The control group did not have their acupuncture needles manipulated.

Immediately after the sessions, patients were interviewed about whether they experienced de qi and, if so, asked to rate its intensity. The effect was achieved in 80 percent of the group receiving strong acupuncture and 1.6 percent of the control group.

The researchers evaluated progress using the House-Brackman scale and the Facial Disability Index. Assessment of progress was taken at the beginning of the study and six months later.

The House-Brackman scale is based on a six-point scale in which one point indicates normal function and six points indicates complete paralysis. The Facial Disability Index asks questions to measure disability and health-related quality of life.

Scores at the beginning of the study before acupuncture were similar for both groups. At follow-up, facial-nerve function, disability and quality of life were better in the group receiving strong acupuncture than in the group receiving weak acupuncture.

Almost 90 percent of the group receiving strong acupuncture made a complete recovery, compared to almost 71 percent in the group receiving weak acupuncture.

Diane Shiao, PT, MSPT, DPT, of Revive Physical Therapy and Wellness in Edison, New Jersey, spoke with dailyRx about the use of acupuncture for Bell's palsy.

“From my experience with Bell's palsy, treatment of the facial muscles should be administered immediately for the best results,” said Dr. Shiao.

“A combination of acupuncture, acupressure/massage, electric stimulation, and physical therapy exercises allows for a greater return of muscle function,” she said.

“The facial nerve and the surrounding muscles must be stimulated to prevent permanent facial paralysis,” Dr. Shiao added.

The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Funding was provided by grants from National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars, Natural Science Foundation of China and National Basic Research Program.

The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 28, 2013
Last Updated:
March 3, 2013