Healing From Bell's Palsy
Healing from Bell's Palsy feels like a long slow climb up a mountain. With few resources to get you up and over into full recovery.
John's Hopkins explains Bell's palsy as an unexplained episode of facial muscle weakness or paralysis. It begins suddenly and worsens over 48 hours. This condition results from damage to the facial nerve (the 7th cranial nerve). Pain and discomfort usually occur on one side of the face or head. Bell's Palsy can strike anyone at any age.
Bell's Palsy has been said to affect about 40,000 people in the United States every year. And that was before the spike in the last few years.
The majority of people with Bell's Palsy, around 85%, will recover completely with time, although the paralysis may last for up to one year in severe cases. However, the remaining 15% will experience some degree of permanent paralysis.
When Bell's Palsy strikes it is devastating. It is not just half of the face drooping and paralyzed, the nerves are damaged several things can happen. Taste is dulled and the ability to eat is compromised, things need to be cut into small pieces and it tends to be a messy business. Speech becomes impaired. The eye does not blink and the vision becomes blurry. Eye drops are required to keep the eye lubricated and using something at night to keep the eye closed so it can actually rest. Wind and cold irritate the eye. When the eye does start to create tears they just leak out continuously because the facial nerve also carries nerve impulses to the tear glands, the saliva glands, and the muscles of a small bone in the middle of the ear.
Symptoms generally start to improve with or without treatment after a few weeks (for the lucky), with recovery of some or all facial function within six months. In some cases, residual muscle weakness lasts longer or may be permanent. There is no medical treatment for Bell's Palsy.
Acupuncture with a traditional Chinese Doctor is recommended across many disciplines as an effective therapy for Bell's Palsy.
I also wished I had sought out Osteopathy and Cranial Sacral much sooner in my journey as I have found them invaluable in several ways.
See the bottom of this page for recommended practitioners if you are in the London, ON, CA area.
Bell’s Palsy cases vary, but individuals dealing with this condition (such as myself) may also experience any or all of the following symptoms:
Hypertonic (tight) facial muscles
Facial muscle spasms
Facial Synkinesis refers to abnormal regrowth of facial nerve fibers which may result in involuntary (unwanted) contraction of certain muscles during other intended facial movement, and can be thought of as miswiring of the facial muscles.
Examples of synkinesis include:
When you smile, the eye on the affected side may close
When you smile, your neck muscles tighten
When you blink, or close your eye, the corner of the mouth on the affected side pulls up
When you chew, your eye closes
Facial synkinesis may occur in anyone who has a history of facial nerve paralysis, but it is most often seen in patients with delayed recovery of facial nerve function (i.e. greater than 2-3 months). If you are experiencing unwanted movements, these movements must be re-coordinated through training. During Bell’s Palsy therapy, facial muscles that are “holding other muscles captive” have to be retrained to allow the primary muscles to move properly.
The basic idea behind these facial muscle exercises is to slowly recreate the brain-to-nerve-to-muscle routine. At first, the goal is to regain the capability of doing correct facial muscle movements voluntarily. Over time, this may result in natural facial movements and expressions. Bell’s Palsy physical therapy focuses on specific facial muscle movements to facilitate this rehabilitation.
In my case, this meant the return of abilities such as being able to keep my lips sealed so I can swish mouthwash, blow out a candle or a match, isolate movements of mouth and eye like mindful chewing on the affected side without my eye closing, and speech improvement.
Stress Compromises The Ability to Heal
Medical research estimates as much as 90 percent of illness and disease is stress related.
What we feel as stress is the product of the sympathetic nervous system or the “fight or flight” response - an almost instantaneous surge in heart rate, cardiac output, blood pressure, sweating, shallow breathing, and metabolism, combined with a tensing of muscles. Internally, the “fight or flight” response shuts down digestion and elimination and reduces blood flow to the internal organs. Short term, this stress reaction is a good thing. The “fight or flight” response prepares us to respond to any environmental threat by fighting against it or fleeing from it. But long term, continuous exposure to stress is harmful, placing excess wear and tear on the body’s systems and severely limiting the body’s natural maintenance and healing abilities. The nervous system is super sensitive to stress.
Because of the other stresses I was experiencing in body, mind and heart, I found myself in long pauses with no improvement.
When activated, the parasympathetic nervous system lowers blood pressure, heart rate and respiration (the pace of the breath). Digestion and elimination are allowed to be stimulated, and blood is free to travel to the digestive, reproductive, glandular, and immune systems — systems necessary for the promotion of long-term health. This is the “relaxation response” also known as the “rest and renew” stage, when the body has the time and resources to heal.
Here I share an 11min audio meditation that takes you through progressively relaxing the body, the breath and the nervous system. It is designed to activate the "relaxation response".
Many find it helpful to reduce anxiety and to fall asleep.
Feel free to download it and use it as often as you need to.
Where Our Attention Goes, The Energy Flows
When we focus our attention on a specific part of the body, then breath, circulation and energy are directed there. You feed the area you focus on and spark brain-to-body communication.
Here are some practices to try:
Lift the eyebrow and scrunch the eyes tight.
Conscious blinking - once you are able to close your eyelid, try to periodically be aware of blinking the affected eye when the other one does automatically.
When you regain enough cheek movement to start being able to chew on the affected side, hold your mouth closed as needed and practice chewing with the affected side. If your eye closes also focus on keeping it open.
Take your Gua Sha into the bath, or a hot tub if you have one!
Practice different emotional expressions in front of the mirror, holding or helping the affected side to mirror correct expression.
Try drinking through a straw... and blowing bubbles through one.
Try to be willing to laugh and find joy in the little victories.
Try integrating these practices with things that you do regularly like waiting at stop lights, washing your hands, watching the screen, talking on the phone...especially while on hold for tech support! lol
The Shame and Grief of
Did you ever imagine a time before Bells Palsy when you would be grateful to see wrinkles again or that you would be so happy not to have to hold your eye shut any longer while your rinse your hair?!
Everything is awkward, like eating and drinking in front of others, showing your face not only in public but at work everyday. I really noticed that the camera accentuates the disfigurement - my 50th birthday pictures make me cringe. I teach in front of a camera several times a week and have recordings of classes I have taught over the year that were shared to the participants.
No one else shamed me. I just became naturally very self-conscious about my appearance and my speech.
I transformed my current feelings of shame, and the layers of buried shame, through the healing art form I teach and practice called Alchemical Healing.
The fact that I am a yoga teacher and medicine woman, and could not heal myself in a timely fashion added to my self-imposed shame.
I believe that everything happens for a reason, I have learned and grown so much through this process, I am grateful for the heightened awareness, and commitment to myself, the appreciation of things I took for granted.
Perhaps I could help you do the same..
You can learn more about a Healing Session with me here:
This is me 3 months in, before I could blink my eye. Little did I know then that the journey would be much longer. I was confident I would heal quickly.
I practiced a mantra meditation that expressed
I Am Beautiful, Inside and Out.
This repeated phrase brought up the sorrow and grief of my outward appearance. Keep repeating it until your tears are spent and you believe it no matter what your face looks like.
Feel free to download it and use it as often as you need to.
Bells Palsy Self Applied Therapies
I have created a set of videos that you can use anytime you want as needed. You may use some of them at different times of your journey. All of the videos are from 3-25 min long so they are easy to fit into your day. Please remember that Self Care is Not a Chore! When parts of us are in need of care we should attend to them with the same tenderness we would offer a loved one.
Face Physio (Essential for retraining the brain-to-nerve-to-muscle routine) Use this as soon as movement begins to return. I know my journey would have been much shorter if I would have had these early on.
Facial Massage with movement using a Gua Sha. (A tool I found recently and wish I would have known about sooner)
Basic Facial exercises for when you start regaining movement.
Facial massage with a foam ball Caution: Be very gentle before movement resumes.
Neck Release and Stretching
Self applied ball therapy to massage and release your neck and shoulders
Upper body movement to open and release the chest and shoulders.
For the cost of only a few therapeutic treatments of various modalities you will receive unlimited access to this video library for continued support!
Reciprocity is $155
Upon payment you will receive an email with further details and instructions with unlimited access to the library.
(If cost is a hardship, please contact Nik to see what trade or arrangements can be made.)
You will need a few tools to work with for 2 of the video's. 2 Racquet balls and a Gua Sha.
They can be found fairly easily in stores near you or online.
I have experienced continued improvement in function and appearance since practicing the face physio video.
I am already working on the 2nd Facial Physio video with added refinements for continual progress.
Get the tools and progress even faster.
The Gua Sha is a game changer if you are experiencing Synkinesis, Cross Wiring of the Facial muscles or Hypertonic facial muscles.