According to the American Physical Therapy Association, Bell’s palsy is a type of facial paralysis that can affect a person’s daily function, communication abilities, self-esteem, and quality of life. It occurs when the nerve controlling movement on 1 side of the face becomes irritated or inflamed. The condition often comes on suddenly, facial weakness of varying degrees, but begins to recover naturally. Symptoms may include the inability to close one eye, facial droop on the involved side, pain in or behind the ear, drooling, loss of sense of taste, or difficulty speaking. NOTE: The same or similar symptoms can also be caused by acute stroke. Immediate medical evaluation is necessary if these symptoms develop.
How can physical therapy help?
Your physical therapist will perform a comprehensive exam to determine which facial muscles are involved and to what extent. Examination may include assessing movements of the forehead and eyebrow, eye closure, activation of cheek muscles when smiling, pursing your lips, blowing up a balloon, and moving the upper and lower lips independently of each other. If the eye is severely involved and your eye is unable to close, you may be recommended to wear a patch temporarily to protect your eye. Low Level Laser Therapy (“Cold Laser”) has been shown to be effective in promoting return of muscle strength in the face. In some cases, targeted electrical stimulation of specific facial muscles combined with active exercises can retrain the muscles to work correctly.