The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) defines Bell’s palsy as “a form of temporary facial paralysis resulting from damage or trauma to the facial nerves.”
It afflicts roughly 40,000 Americans annually, with most of the individuals affected being between 15 and 60 years of age.
Named after Sir Charles Bell, the first surgeon to describe this condition in great detail, Bell’s palsy generally involves paralysis on just one side of the face, but it sometimes occurs on both. This means that it affects a person’s most basic facial functions, such as blinking and closing of the eye, as well as limiting the display of common emotion-based expressions like smiling and frowning.
Depending on which nerves it afflicts, it can also impact the eyes’ ability to tear and the tongue’s ability to taste, even potentially causing headaches, dizziness, ear ringing, and impaired speech.
Part of what makes Bell’s palsy so complex is its cause. While most health experts agree that it’s the damage—the swelling, inflammation, or compression—of the facial nerves that creates the symptoms associated with Bell’s palsy, the NINDS goes on to explain that, “Exactly what causes this damage, however, is unknown.”
Some believe that a virus is to blame, but it’s also been associated with high blood pressure, head injuries, and other health conditions like Lyme disease and diabetes, making its true cause sometimes unclear. One thing is clear, however, and that is that instrument adjusting via chiropractic care can potentially provide individuals with Bell’s palsy positive results, and research confirms it.
Bell’s palsy research with regard to chiropractic care
For instance, in one 2003 study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, a 49-year-old woman was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy and reported experiencing jaw and neck pain along with an “extreme” fear of loud sounds. This was in addition to the facial paralysis characteristic of this particular condition.
The patient subsequently engaged in chiropractic care which consisted of “full spine contact-specific, high-velocity, low-amplitude adjustments to sites of vertebral and occipital subluxations” for a period of six months. During this time, the patient’s condition continuously improved, causing researchers to conclude that chiropractic can provide a positive response for patients diagnosed with Bell’s palsy.
A later study found similar results. This one was published in 2011 in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine and focused on a 47-year-old woman with chronic Bell’s palsy. Her symptoms included pressure and congestion in the right sinus, as well as random tingling and lack of facial tone on the right side of the face.
In this study, the patient also engaged in high-velocity, low-amplitude chiropractic manipulations made to the cervical and thoracic spine. Treatment also involved muscle stimulation via interferential current therapy and hydroculation on the trapezius muscles bilaterally. Symptoms reduced continuously during the initial nine weeks of chiropractic, with the patient experiencing 90 percent improvement after one year of care.
Treating patients with Bell’s palsy
When treating a patient with Bell’s palsy, it’s important that they know that, while chiropractic can help improve symptoms, the NINDS also indicates that “some cases are mild and do not require treatment as the symptoms usually subside on their own within two weeks.” Ensuring that they realize this up front can help ease some of the anxiety they may feel over being diagnosed with this condition.
Other therapeutic approaches include steroids, pain relievers, physical therapy, and acupuncture as all have been found to offer relief, so suggesting some of these options may be beneficial to the patient’s course of care. The NINDS also stresses the importance of protecting the eye from drying, which makes encouraging patients to use eye drops to lubricate or an eye cover during sleep to protect it since it doesn’t close all the way helpful to the healing process.
To learn more about Bell’s palsy, the NINDS offers a Bell’s Palsy Fact Sheet which explains more about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment for this particular condition. The National Institute of Health’s Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center also provides information on these topics, as well as links to research and other organizations specializing in Bell’s palsy diagnosis and treatment.