Bell’s palsy affects an estimated 30,000 – 40,000 Americans every year, and it is most common in people between the ages of 20 to 40 years, with higher incidences in individuals with diabetes mellitus and pregnant women.
Bell’s palsy involves irritation to the seventh cranial nerve. Facial muscle movements are controlled by this nerve, and when the nerve is irritated, an individual may experience facial weakness or paralysis. In most cases, Bell’s palsy affects only one side of the face.
Some evidence suggests that customized facial exercises can help Bell’s palsy patients improve their facial function.
Bell’s palsy cases vary, but an individual who is dealing with this condition also may experience any of the following problems:
- Cross-wiring of the facial muscles
- Hypertonic (tight) facial muscles
- Facial muscle spasms
For some Bell’s palsy patients, the facial muscles start to make unwanted movements, and these movements must be re-coordinated through retraining. Facial muscles that are “holding other muscles captive” have to be retrained to allow the primary muscles to move properly.
The basic idea behind exercises for Bell’s palsy 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, and a Bell’s palsy patient focuses on specific facial muscle movements. Over time, these facial movements may result in natural facial movements and expressions.
At the Facial Paralysis Institute, we stress the importance of being evaluated by an expert neuromuscular therapist. Each Bell’s palsy and facial paralysis patient is unique and has a different functional profile. Therefore, there is no one physical therapy protocol that works for everyone. Upon evaluation with our expert facial paralysis physical therapists, you will learn the exact exercises that will benefit you the most.
Causes of Bell’s Palsy
The exact cause of Bell’s palsy is still not completely understood, but is likely due to reactivation of HSV herpes virus that causes cold sores. This reactivation essentially causes the nerve to shut down.” Additionally, Herpes zoster infection, HIV infection, Lyme disease, middle ear infection, and Sarcoidosis are among some of the possible diseases which could contribute to Bell’s Palsy.
Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy
The onset of facial paralysis is sudden with Bell’s palsy, and can worsen during the early stages. Symptoms will usually manifest and peak within 2-3 days, although it can take as long as 2 weeks. Common symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Muscle weakness or paralysis
- Facial droop
- Impossible or difficult to blink
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty eating and drinking
- Nose runs
- Nose is constantly stuffed
- Difficulty breathing out of nostril on affected side
- Nostril collapse on affected side
- Forehead wrinkles disappear
- Sensitivity to sound
- Excess or reduced salivation
- Facial swelling
- Diminished or distorted taste
- Pain behind ear
There are also some eye related symptoms, which may include but are not limited to:
- Difficulty closing the eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Lower eyelid droop
- Tears fail to coat cornea
- Brow droop
- Excessive tearing
- Lack of tears
Exercises for Bell’s Palsy
While there is no high quality evidence to support significant benefit or harm from any physical therapy for idiopathic facial paralysis, there is some evidence that customized facial exercises can help to improve facial function.
While cases vary, you may experience residuals such as: synkinesis, cross-wiring, hypertonic (tight) muscles, and spasms if you have suffered from Bell’s palsy for a longer time period. For some people, the muscles have had time to develop inappropriate movements. These movements must be correctly coordinated through retraining. Muscles that are “holding other muscles captive” have to be retrained in order to allow the primary muscles to move properly.
The basic idea is to slowly recreate the brain-to-nerve-to-muscle routine. At first, the goal is to regain the capability of doing correct movements voluntarily, while mentally focusing on the action. But over a period of time, these movements may finally become automatic, natural movements and expressions. While it is a slow process, the exercises can be very beneficial.
At The Facial Paralysis Institute, we stress the importance of being evaluated by an expert neuromuscular therapist to learn the proper exercises for you. Every Bell’s palsy and facial paralysis patient is unique and has a different functional profile. Therefore, there is no one physical therapy protocol that works for everyone. Upon evaluation with our expert facial paralysis physical therapists, you will learn the exact exercises that will benefit you the most.
While it is tempting to provide general facial exercises on a website, it is important to understand that exercises done incorrectly or exercises that are not appropriate for your condition can create more problems.
Schedule a Bell’s Palsy Treatment Consultation with the Facial Paralysis Institute Today
For more information about our customized approach to Bell’s palsy and facial paralysis physical therapy, please contact us today at (310) 657-2203 to schedule a consultation with Beverly Hills Bell’s palsy expert Dr. Azizzadeh.
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