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Equinox is a physical therapy practice in Sarasota, Florida. We specialize in treating people with dizziness, vertigo, balance problems and facial paralysis.

Thursday, 22 February 2018 21:50

Facial Paralysis Treatments

face green nose 19861Facial paralysis occurs when the facial nerve is damaged and unable to send messages to the muscles of the face that create facial expressions.  This problem can occur for several different reasons.  Some causes include: tumor, trauma, infection, stroke, or genetic disorders.
The most common cause of facial paralysis is due to Bell Palsy.  While most of the time, Bell Palsy patients recover fully, research tells us that about 20-30% have lasting weakness or paralysis.
I first started treating people with facial paralysis because I was an inner ear vestibular specialist.  The vestibular system, or inner ear balance system, is innervated by cranial nerve 8 (the Vestibular Nerve).  The muscles of the face used for facial expression are innervated by cranial nerve 7 (the Facial Nerve).  These 2 nerves run side by side on their way to the brain in a tunnel in the bone called the Internal Auditory Canal (IAC).  This is a very narrow space, with only enough room for the nerves to travel.  If a tumor is growing in this small place, or an infection travels to this area, both nerves can be damaged.   When facial paralysis does occur, it can take a long time for the nerve to heal.  The first signs of movements of the face can be only just a flicker, but as the nerve heals, the movements can become stronger.  Working with a physical therapist who has special training in treating facial paralysis can help improve the outcome for patients with this problem.  At Equinox Physical Therapy, we teach people with facial paralysis what to expect while they are recovering, how to do stretches to ease pain and tightness in the face, how to retrain the muscles to move in a symmetrical way with the unaffected side of the face, and how to manage a condition called synkinesis.  Synkinesis is a condition that can occur when the facial nerve is healing and nerve branches go to unintended muscles.  The result is that the patient has difficulty isolating movements in separate regions of the face.  (For example, when a person smiles, their eye closes.)  Like any field, it is important to stay up to date with the standard of care for treating these problems.  Twenty years ago when I first went to physical therapy school, we were taught to use electric stimulation to treat the facial muscles.  We now know that this is not such a good idea, as it is thought that it can promote synkinesis…   I hope this information helps you to understand more about facial paralysis, and what to expect when working with a therapist who specializes in this condition.  
Roy Lichtenstein, Painting entitled Face (green nose), 1986
Published in Blog

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 5.58.19 PMBell Palsy is a condition that causes facial paralysis, and was named after Sir Charles Bell (1774-1842) who described the Facial Nerve and cases of facial paralysis in his writings. 

Who:  20-30 people per 100,000 people develop Bell Palsy per year.  It can occur at any age, but the median age is around 40 years old.

What: by definition, it is defined as idiopathic, acute unilateral peripheral facial palsy.  

Where:  It usually occurs on one side of the face.  Bell Palsy causes weakness or paralysis in all branches of the nerve.  In other words, people show signs of weakness or paralysis in the forehead, midface, and lower face with Bell Palsy.  

When: It comes on suddenly, usually within 48 hours and reaches its peak within a week.   People with Bell Palsy should show some signs of recovery within 6 months of onset.  If a person has complete facial paralysis with no signs of recovery at 6 months, they need further work up, because chances are it is not Bell Palsy, and they may have something serious causing their facial paralysis.  

Why When Bell Palsy was defined, it was defined as idiopathic, meaning “we don’t know what causes it”.  However, new research is pointing to the herpes simplex virus type 1 as a major cause of Bell Palsy.  

What to do:  If you have sudden facial paralysis, you need to find out right away what is causing it so that you get the proper treatment.  A physician needs to examine you and determine if it is Bells Palsy, or something more serious such as a stroke or brain tumor.   

How is it treated:  Initially, patients with Bells Palsy may be prescribed an anti viral medication, and/or a steroid medication to help protect the facial nerve and promote healing.  If the facial weakness does not completely recover on its own, the patient may be sent to a speach, ocupational or physical therapist who specializes in treating facial paralysis to retrain the facial muscles how to work again. 

Reference:  The Facial Nerve by Slattery and Azizzadeh, Chapter 9 on Bells Palsy & Ramsey Hunt Syndrome by Shingo Murakami.



Painting: Green Eye Mask by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, 1915

Published in Blog

Dr. Laura Wazen

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Listen. Listening is the most important step in understanding a patient’s concern. It is the most basic beginning, and in health care today, so often undervalued. It directs understanding, direction of testing, and formulation of a plan. It is the most important step in paving the road to treatment and recovery.

Learn. My role is not only to learn from my patients, but to guide them in how to learn from me, what they should do to take back their lives and create positive change.

Live. Life is a gift. The purpose of all treatment at Equinox Physical Therapy is to restore function, independence, and freedom to clients recovering from or living with an illness.





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