Bell’s palsy, an idiopathic dysfunction of cranial nerve VII, can profoundly impact a patient's quality of life; it is associated with anxiety and depression. Those who develop it often present with partial facial paralysis, spasms and feelings of ‘tightness’ or ‘discomfort’ in the face. These patients have some options for recovery, including systemic corticosteroids and some oral antiviral medications. However, they may want to turn to some nontraditional options, too. According to a report in Current Opinion in Ophthalmology, physical therapy aimed at retraining the affected neuromuscular system can be a useful intervention for treating facial nerve palsy.

“These techniques may be applied by physical, occupational or speech therapists who have specialized training,” the report reads. “Current techniques may incorporate selective exercise therapy, massage, relaxation techniques and biofeedback.”

The report gives the most credence to facial neuromuscular retraining, mime therapy and massage, all of which performed strongly in the research the team reviewed. Less impressive were “controversial therapies,” including brief electrical stimulation and a technique that includes asking patients to “smile as hard as they can” repeatedly.

The retrospective study also found that physical therapy could be useful in concert with surgical intervention.

Landingham S, Diels J, Lucarelli M. Physical therapy for facial nerve palsy: applications for the physician. Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 2018;29(5):469-75.