Acupuncture for Bell’s Palsy

Bell’s palsy is a weakness of the facial muscles, usually only on one side of the face,  which develops over a few hours.  This can cause a drooping on one side of the face, inability to smile on that side, problems with chewing  food and possibly with speaking. Sometimes it makes closing the eye on that side difficult.  The majority of people who suffer from an attack of Bell’s palsy will make a full recovery within a couple of months, even without any treatment. Occasionally there may be another attack later in life, but usually it is a one-off occurrence.

In some people, however, there is not a full recovery and they are left with some degree of facial weakness.

Conventional medicine usually treats Bell’s palsy with a short course of steroid medication, which is believed to  increase the chances of a full recovery from the condition. Sometimes antiviral medication is also used, as it is thought that a virus causing inflammation of the facial nerve may be at the root of the problem. If there is not a full recovery, ‘botox’ injections, facial exercises, or surgery might be tried.

Bell’s Palsy and TCM

In TCM the weakness of the facial muscles is indicative of a sudden impairment of the flow of Qi in this area.

In some cases this will be due to a weakness in the ‘defensive Qi’; this is a form of Qi which circulates through the skin and muscles, forming a barrier between the individual and the world around. If the defensive Qi is weak, the individual becomes overly susceptible to external influences such as wind or cold air, which penetrate into the skin of the face and cause the Qi to stop flowing. In this view, sleeping near an open window, driving with the window down, or just being out on a particularly windy day may trigger the problem. The more depleted the defensive Qi, the easier it is for external influences like this to cause a problem.  In the first place therefore, TCM treatment of Bell’s Palsy aims to restore the flow of Qi in the area concerned. Since acupuncture is very effective at improving the circulation of Qi, it is often an effective intervention. Beyond this, treatment also aims to restore the defensive Qi, which can be weakened by, for example, overwork, not getting enough sleep, poor dietary choices or too little (or too much) exercise.  Acupuncture, herbal medicine, Chi Kung and moxibustion may all be helpful in bolstering the defensive Qi.

As with all other diseases, no two cases of Bell’s Palsy are exactly the same, and so TCM treatment is individualised to the precise set of symptoms of each particular patient. Sometimes Bell’s Palsy is associated with different pathologies than those described above; we always start with a detailed consultation which enables us to understand in detail why a particular person suffers in the way they do, and then treat them on this basis.

Does it Work?

The World Health Organization (1)  includes Bell’s Palsy in its list of conditions for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown but for which further proof is needed. Subsequent to this, a large scale randomised controlled trial in China (2) compared  acupuncture and moxibustion treatment of Bell’s Palsy with conventional drug treatment; it found that the patients receiving the acupuncture and moxibustion treatment received the most benefit.


WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials

Ying L. et al (2004) Efficacy of Acupuncture and Moxibustion in treating Bell’s Palsy: a Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial in China. Chinese Medical Journal 117:10 1502-06

Header image: By Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator (Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator) [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

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