Our facial expressions are an important part of how we interact with the people around us. Paralysis of our facial muscles can significantly impact those interactions, and how we see ourselves. Damage to the Facial Nerve is one cause of facial paralysis. Common complaints are muscle weakness resulting in one sided facial drooping, problems blinking or closing the eye, dry or teary eye, drooling and difficulty speaking, drinking or eating. Facial nerve damage can also cause balance and hearing changes.
The most common type of facial paralysis is Bell’s Palsy, which is muscle weakness in one complete half of the face resulting from a bacterial or viral infection that damages the Facial Nerve. Another similar condition, Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, is caused by the Chicken Pox or Shingles virus and may look like a Bell’s Palsy, but will also cause symptoms such as ear pain, vertigo and hearing loss. Additionally, any kind of trauma to the Facial Nerve can cause facial paralysis. If the damage occurs at a point along the nerve’s path where it has already divided into its main branches, one or more branches of the Facial Nerve may be spared, leaving some facial muscles still functioning normally.
A specially trained physiotherapist can help maximize the recovery of a damaged Facial Nerve. First, the physiotherapist will complete a comprehensive evaluation of facial movements and muscles. Patients will receive education regarding their Facial Nerve function. Treatment may include relaxation and facilitation techniques, and pain management. The physiotherapist will provide a customized neuromuscular training programme with specific exercises to promote facial symmetry and recovery of balanced movement. A Facial Nerve programme will include instruction on daily home exercises and stimulation or relaxation techniques, with ongoing reassessment and programme adjustment.
Early assessment and regular follow-up is important to ensure that facial rehabilitation will start at the optimal time. However, changes in facial movement patterns and symmetry can occur for many months, and even years after onset, so even if you have a longstanding facial paralysis, a physiotherapy consultation can be helpful.