Facial Neuromuscular Retraining
Facial Neuromuscular Retraining is a non-surgical therapy that helps people relearn to move their facial muscles in a natural way after an injury to the facial nerve. Some of the most common causes of facial nerve injury include Bell’s palsy, acoustic neuroma, and other benign brain tumors, Ramsay-Hunt syndrome, traumatic injury, and some congenital (birth) injuries. Through individually tailored, precisely executed movement patterns, facial retraining teaches the brain to access the muscles accurately to re-establish more normal expression.
Facial Retraining should not be confused with non-specific general therapies commonly used to treat facial paralysis. As a specialty program which originated at the University of Wisconsin in 1983, it was specifically created for people suffering from facial paralysis resulting from direct injury to the facial nerve as opposed to paralysis caused by a stroke or other brain injury. Facial Retraining requires a thorough understanding of facial nerve and muscle anatomy, physiology, and function. Each face and recovery are unique, so a general “hand-out sheet of exercises” approach such as “smile”, “pucker as hard as you can”, or “chew gum”, is never used in Facial Retraining. It is impossible to provide specific instructions without analyzing each person individually.
In Facial Retraining, “exercise” is not the same as strengthening muscles. In many cases, there is sufficient strength, however poor coordination between the muscles. Strength and coordination are not the same. A certain amount of muscular strength is required to play piano or hit a golf ball, but simply being strong does not result in beautiful music or a good swing. That comes from consistent training specific to each task. Normal facial movements are effortless. They are rarely forced with effort. The unique function of the facial muscles differentiates them from other muscles of the human body. They do not move bones around joints, but, rather, move the skin of the face into varied and intricate facial expressions that communicate our emotions- happy to sad, excited to angry, comforting to horrified and everything in between. They also provide the actions necessary for eating, drinking, speaking, blinking and other, normally spontaneous, functions. Retraining focuses on coordinating the many facial muscles precisely, so they can generate proper expressive movements.
Facial Neuromuscular Retraining is based on clinical research indicating its effectiveness. In most cases where the facial nerve is intact (or surgically repaired), there appears to be no time limit for learning improved function after injury. Individual programs are tailor-made for each client based on their unique functional profile and goals and rely on a strong partnership between the therapist and patient. As is true in all new learning, commitment to consistent, accurate practice is required to achieve optimal outcomes.