Bell's Palsy is a condition that affects the facial muscles, leading to temporary paralysis on one side of the face. This condition can cause discomfort and distress for those affected, and finding effective treatments is crucial. One alternative therapy that has gained attention for its potential benefits is Thai massage. In this blog post, we will explore the therapeutic advantages of this ancient technique in helping to alleviate the symptoms of Bell's Palsy.
A client's personal story
My journey with Bell's Palsy began at night when I became conscious of a tingling and swelling of my top lip that I conveniently ignored. Early next morning, I woke up to a shock - to my dismay, the left side of my face was paralyzed. Although I didn't register at the time, my symptoms and outward appearance were very similar to that of a stroke victim.
Feeling panicked and confused, I sought help from a pharmacist that immediately diagnosed me with Bell's Palsy. He urged me to seek medical assistance immediately.
I rushed to the medical centre and waited a short time before they opened for the day. As I was first through the door, I was able to quickly see a emergency doctor who confirmed my affliction was indeed Bell's Palsy.
While sitting in front of the doctor, it soon became clear that little was known about Bell's Palsy. There didn't seem to be any definitive knowledge on what causes Bell's Pausy or what treatments can be beneficial. I found it very disconcerting that the doctor's prognosis was uncertain. I was prescribed eye and ear drops, a week-long course of steroids, and for no obvious reason; pain relief. I was advised me to take the meds and then sit-back and wait for several months to see if I would recover. My immediate reaction was to be pro-active and requested some guidance about alternative therapy, the dismissive response I received was disheartening. Nothing was recommended or suggested, in fact it was made clear that I had reached the end of the road with mainstream medicine. This made to feel somewhat abandoned and alone.
Living with Bell's Palsy is unnerving and frustrating. I was left feeling uncomfortable with a tightness on the left side of my face. My left nostril had become blocked. My left eye remained permanently open, requiring to be tapped shut at night and constant moisturising drops during the day. Eating became a struggle - let's just say that eating in polite company was a no-go. My speech was slurred making it impossible to clearly converse. Public appearances were embarrassing as I was hyper-conscious of my disfigured face that in my mind drew unwanted attention. My ego and confidence suffered a big hit.
One surprising aspect that I really missed was my ability to smile. The paralysis froze the movement of my lips on the left side meaning I was unable to form a smile. Living with Bell's Palsy emphasised that a simple smile can be significant in human interaction when used for greeting and during conversation. A smile can disarm, reassure and put people at ease. Without a smile, I found it difficult to connect.
Refusing to sit idle and simply wait the prescribed several months of inactivity, I turned to the internet for alternative therapies to aid my recovery. I was made very clear by my doctor that it was a real possibility that Bell's Palsy could become a permanent condition. This was all the motivation I needed to be proactive and help myself.
I decided to confront Bell's Palsy head-on and took a month off work. From my internet searches I decided to pursue Chinese medicine. I travelled out of town and consulted a Chinese doctor who provided me with a two-week course of intensely bitter medicine. He also recommended acupuncture.
My desperation to heal drove me to conquer my fear of needles, and I persisted with sessions of acupuncture throughout the month.
Upon returning home, I was forced to seek another solution as acupuncture wasn't readily available where I lived. Luckily, I found a Thai massage therapist that was happy and willing to offer treatment. In her therapy sessions, she used firm and rhythmic strokes with her hands, she worked my entire body to reduce tension, soothe muscles and make me relaxed. Using coconut oil that she blended herself, she would work on my facial muscles gently and firmly by hand.
My massage therapist would also use hot stones as a massage tool to radiate heat into my facial muscles. Those hot volcanic rocks felt wonderful and seemed to directly target and provide some relief from the tightness caused by the paralysis.
Discovering Thai massage as a means of therapy marked the turning point in my recovery journey as I began to notice small incremental improvements in my condition.
Over several months, I started to regain control of my facial muscles, and the discomfort began to subside. I slowly reached many small milestones that included: being able to blink my left eye, suck through a straw, eating became easier, my speech improved etc. With each session, I felt a renewed sense of hope and healing.
Incorporating Thai massage into my routine proved to be a catalyst for my recovery. In hindsight, I'm unsure if the Chinese medicine and acupuncture had any positive effect. The Thai massage therapy seemed to greatly advance my recovery and significantly reduce the effects of Bell's Palsy in my daily life. I began to see light at the end of the tunnel and became more positive and less stressed about the possibility of permanent disfigurement.
While Bell's Palsy had initially left me feeling powerless and frustrated, the journey of exploration and discovering a treatment that worked for me was immensely satisfying. It taught me the importance of taking responsibility for my own health and not to be discouraged in seeking alternative therapies.
Today, after 12-months I'm on a path to full recovery, and I credit my Thai massage therapy sessions as a significant contributor to my healing process. It's essential to remember that every individual's experience with Bell's Palsy is unique, and seeking professional medical advice is crucial.
Exploring complementary therapies like Thai Massage along with finding someone that genuinely cares about your health and wellbeing, can be an invaluable addition to the recovery journey.