What to Expect from Physical Therapy During Synkinesis Treatment
Synkinesis refers to simultaneous facial movement that happens after a patient experiences Bell’s palsy. Or, synkinesis can occur after a patient undergoes a surgical procedure in which the facial nerve was previously cut and reconnected. In this instance, facial nerve wires can be linked to the incorrect nerve group, leading to unwanted facial movement.
Neuromuscular retraining, also referred to as physical therapy, is one of the most-common treatments to correct linked facial movements, facial coordination issues, and other synkinesis symptoms. A physical therapy program is tailored to a patient’s synkinesis symptoms, and it requires hard work and patience from both the patient and their physical therapist.
Dr. Babak Azizzadeh and his team at The Facial Paralysis Institute want neuromuscular retraining to be a rewarding experience for a synkinesis patient. Before a patient begins physical therapy, Dr. Azizzadeh and his team develop a custom neuromuscular retraining plan. They then work with a patient to execute this plan and help the patient strengthen their facial muscles and improve facial muscle coordination.
When Does Neuromuscular Retraining for Synkinesis Start?
There is no set period when every synkinesis patient should begin neuromuscular retraining. Since each physical therapy program is tailored to a synkinesis patient, the right time to begin neuromuscular retraining varies.
Approximately 85% of patients coping with Bell’s palsy, shingles, and other conditions that can cause facial paralysis fully recover within about three months of treatment. Yet, if a patient continues to experience synkinesis or other facial paralysis symptoms many months after treatment, neuromuscular retraining may be beneficial.
By meeting with Dr. Azizzadeh and his team, a synkinesis patient can undergo a comprehensive evaluation. A surgical procedure or other synkinesis treatment options may be recommended depending on the patient, followed by neuromuscular retraining.
If Dr. Azizzadeh and his team believe physical therapy can be beneficial for a synkinesis patient, a personalized neuromuscular retraining plan is developed. This plan is implemented at a time deemed to be safe for a patient and can help the patient manage synkinesis symptoms.
What Exercises Are Included in a Neuromuscular Retraining Program?
The exercises used in neuromuscular retraining vary. To determine which exercises should be incorporated into a neuromuscular retraining plan, Dr. Azizzadeh and his team consider any surgical procedures that a patient can receive to treat synkinesis and other forms of facial paralysis. In doing so, Dr. Azizzadeh and his team can help patients use physical therapy exercises to enhance the function of various facial muscles and ensure these patients are better equipped to produce natural facial expressions going forward.
If a patient undergoes a facial nerve transfer procedure, the facial nerve may overcorrect itself. When this occurs, a patient can experience hyper-contractions in the facial muscles after surgery.
For facial nerve transfer patients, a combination of stretching and massage exercises may be integrated into a physical therapy program. These exercises can help facial nerve transfer patients reduce facial tissue tightness, as well as learn how to use the proper muscles to smile, frown, and make other facial expressions.
In instances where the facial nerve is damaged during tumor removal surgery, the nerve heals at a rate of about 1 inch per month. Following tumor removal, a patient may regain the ability to move the mouth upward and show other signs of recovery within about 10 to 12 months of surgery. At this point, a patient can begin a neuromuscular retraining program to gradually strengthen the facial nerve.
If a patient is coping with Bell’s palsy that does not disappear on its own within about three months of onset, neuromuscular retraining can be used to strengthen affected facial muscles and improve muscle coordination. During a neuromuscular retraining program, a Bell’s palsy patient can learn which muscles to use to make different facial expressions.
How Often Are Neuromuscular Retraining Sessions Required?
The frequency of neuromuscular retraining sessions depends on the patient, the severity of their synkinesis symptoms, and other factors. By partnering with Dr. Azizzadeh and his team, a patient can find out how often neuromuscular retraining sessions are required, along with how to maximize the effectiveness of physical therapy exercises.
Initially, a synkinesis patient can meet with occupational therapist Jackie Diels of The Facial Paralysis Institute for neuromuscular retraining. The patient can use in-office neuromuscular retraining sessions to learn how to perform physical therapy exercises properly.
Once a synkinesis patient learns how to correctly perform neuromuscular retraining exercises and feels comfortable and confident with them, the patient can continue their physical therapy program at home. The patient must stay on track with their physical therapy program to achieve the best results.
Over the course of a neuromuscular retraining program, a synkinesis patient’s results are monitored by Dr. Azizzadeh and his team. Synkinesis patients are also encouraged to reach out to The Facial Paralysis Institute if they have concerns or questions during a neuromuscular retraining program.
Is Neuromuscular Retraining for Synkinesis Painful?
Synkinesis can cause pain, but neuromuscular retraining is used to help patients reduce or eliminate this issue. Thanks to physical therapy, a patient can use exercises to strengthen facial muscles affected by synkinesis. As a patient performs these exercises, synkinesis pain may decline accordingly.
If a patient experiences pain at any point during a neuromuscular retraining program, notify Dr. Azizzadeh immediately. This enables a patient to receive expert support from Dr. Azizzadeh and his team and limit the risk of potential synkinesis treatment complications.
Is Neuromuscular Retraining Safe and Effective?
The benefits of neuromuscular retraining can be significant, particularly for synkinesis patients. By exploring physical therapy with Dr. Azizzadeh and his team, a patient can determine if physical therapy is the best option to manage synkinesis symptoms.
Dr. Azizzadeh is world-renowned for his facial plastic and reconstructive surgery and head and neck surgery expertise, and he wants to help synkinesis patients alleviate their facial paralysis symptoms. Although Dr. Azizzadeh may recommend surgery to help patients address synkinesis, neuromuscular retraining can be beneficial for patients in the months after treatment.
A consultation with Dr. Azizzadeh can be valuable for a synkinesis patient. At this time, Dr. Azizzadeh learns about a patient and their synkinesis symptoms, as well as crafts a custom treatment plan. Dr. Azizzadeh can also explain if he believes physical therapy is beneficial to help a patient manage synkinesis.
If Dr. Azizzadeh believes physical therapy is a safe, effective option to help a patient address synkinesis symptoms, he works with his team to determine which exercises should be incorporated into a neuromuscular retraining program. Finally, with a neuromuscular retraining plan in place, a synkinesis patient can get the necessary help to achieve long-term synkinesis symptom relief.
Schedule a Synkinesis Treatment Consultation with Dr. Azizzadeh
Patients who are coping with synkinesis can meet with Dr. Azizzadeh to explore a wide range of treatment options. To learn more or to schedule a treatment consultation with Dr. Azizzadeh, please contact us online or call us today at (310) 657-2203.
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