Bell’s palsy is a neurologic condition of the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII) that causes weakness or paralysis of the muscles on one side of the face. This condition is seen equally in men & women, usually between the ages of 20 & 60. Bell’s palsy affects approximately 2 in 10,000 people in the United States. What causes Bell’s palsy is usually unknown, but viral infections are often implicated.
Bell’s palsy is a neurologic condition of the facial nerve or cranial nerve VII that causes weakness or paralysis of the muscles on one side of the face. The person may experience facial pain or a pulling sensation behind or in front of the ear. Paralysis often causes distortion of facial expressions. Signs & symptoms begin suddenly & range from mild to severe. Paralysis may be so severe that the person may not be able to open or close an eye; one side of the mouth may droop. When this event occurs, the person is unable to smile, whistle, grimace or control salivation on the affected side. The person with Bell’s palsy may have difficulty with eating & drinking.
Treatment goals are to reduce inflammation & to relieve pressure on the facial nerve. Corticosteroids may be used to decrease inflammation. Analgesics are used to reduce pain. Antivirals may be used, depending on the cause of the disease. In rare cases surgery is used to relieve nerve pressure by increasing the diameter of the bony structure through which the nerve passes.
Massage Therapy & Bell’s Palsy –
Massage techniques such as light pressure effleurage & petrissage on the face, directed upward, may help manage symptoms. Massage is recommended to promote relaxation as stress and anxiety can worsen the condition (1). These massage techniques may be included in a general massage session for a client with Bell’s Palsy or in a session to specifically address the condition. The therapist may also instruct the client to massage his or her own face two to three times a day.
Although facial massage is frequently recommended & used to hasten recovery (2) & prevent permanent problems associated with paralyzed muscles in people with Bell’s palsy (1), there is little research to support this claim (2). One study by Mosforth & Taverner (1958) investigated the use of facial massage & did not find a significant difference between the control group & the treatment group. While it was interesting that the control group received facial massage, infrared radiation, electrical stimulation & the treatment group received facial massage alone (meaning that both groups received facial massage), this study was the first randomized control trail (RCT) in the field of physiotherapy (3).
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Susan Salvo is a board certified massage therapist with 30+ years of experience. Susan is passionate about massage therapy and massage education. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.