Updated: Sep 10
I would have had my face back a year ago if I knew then what I know now.
As with all of the Bell’s Palsy journey it’s about practice and patience.
But practicing the right things in the right order is essential for success.
The general focus in most of the available information out there is on facial exercises.
The missing concept is that tight or contracted facial muscles oppose or limit movement. I understood this concept from my 20 years of teaching yoga but it took me a long time to figure out how to stretch the face.
And once I did I began to make steady progress again and began experiencing feeling like me again for the 1st time in a very long time. I literally woke up one morning feeling more freedom in my face and more like me. I cried with relief and joy.
Facial distortion is a constant, subtle experience of felt restrictions. Not looking like you when you see yourself in the mirror is devastating but the ceaseless awareness of the inability to express the real you and the self consciousness that inevitably follows suite is just as hurtful. It was not until I began to feel more like me that I understood this.
Even if you have suffered from facial paralysis for a long time there is hope for recovery.
I am living proof.
I was struck with Bell's Palsy on January 25th 2022.
And it has taken over a year and half to finally feel like me again. Not just look like be but feel like me. I didn't even realize until I woke one morning and didn't feel the restriction or inability in my face.
I did all the right things according to what I could find out there to do and still suffered a long, hard journey with very little slow progress. It took time to uncover all of the pieces of the puzzle that were causing complications in my healing. I share more details on my Bell's Palsy website.
It wasn't until I started going to an Osteopath In October of 2022, that I started to see marked improvement so I began playing with how to incorporate what he was doing into facial physio exercises. The concept involves using resistance to encourage function and always lengthening an area after each exercise. At that time my "resting face looked normal" and my eye was finally starting to intermittently blink. Eight months without the ablility to blink!
It didn't take long before I created automatic and symmetrical blinking. Huge Win!
I was massaging with various tools all along the way, which helped but I seemed to hit a plateau this spring. So I refined how I work with the Guasha successfully and began to realize the importance of the neck muscles as the foundation of the face. The Platysma in particular is innervated by the 7th cranial nerve that ceases to function and causes facial paralysis.
Softening The Facial Muscles
You can see here how the Bell's Palsy afflicted side of my face went from drooping to lifted in contraction.
If you are experiencing something similar, do not even bother with facial movement exercises. It will only exasperate the rigidness and set up a perfect storm for synkinesis complications.
I can not stress enough the benefits of using heat compresses on the face. I did not know this when this picture was taken unfortunately.
The care needed here is a 10-15 minute application of heat then stretching and massaging.
Many of the facial muscles thread into each other and work together. In fact all of the muscles in the body work in pairs, including the facial muscles. As one muscle contracts, the other muscle relaxes or lengthens. The muscle that is contracting is called the agonist and the muscle that is relaxing or lengthening is called the antagonist. Both must happen to complete a movement or expression.
Facial Palsy movement exercises can be a losing battle when the muscles are tight or contracted, which is very common. It is key to stretch, and massage an area before exercising it. If I would have been aware of this concept I absolutely know my journey would not have been as long or complicated.
On my website I explain the benefits of hot compresses, massage, stretching and how to use the Gua Sha specifically for facial palsy to release trigger points, acupoints and fibrous tissue.
The face has automatic emotional input which means it responds to the emotions we are feeling. No other muscles in the body do this. The newest research has uncovered that we use a combination of the emotional centre and the motor centre of the brain to create the myriad of facial expressions.
You simply can not retrain the neural pathways for facial expressions until there is less resistance to it.
Release the conflict of opposing force. Then practice slow and focused exercises that include lengthening. Top it off with including emotional expression and you have a recipe for complete success.
It is thought to take around 3 months to make new neural pathways. Repetition wires together the brain cells that make a new behavior feel routine and easier over time. This timeframe can fluctuate, as each brain is unique
The basic idea here is to 1st release the inability to create movement then consistently practice the facial exercises with lengthening to slowly recreate the brain-to-nerve-to-muscle routine. Once learned, they can be incorporated periodically throughout the day with mindful practices in everyday activities. Along with the commitment to feeling and looking like you again.
You can explore more about Emotional Expression here. I have created a guided practice with visual representations that invokes emotional responses to be used in front of a mirror to view and refine the results, and to activate both the emotional and motor centres of the brain.
Stretching The Eye To Restore Blinking and Eyebrow Movement
Stretching the face in general utilizes manipulation with your fingers so short nails are best.
I was inspired by the few times my Osteopath and Craniosacral therapist put their fingers inside of my mouth, to try and create stretches. I even found a way to stretch the nostril. It involves a fingertip up your nose. Not kidding! lol It is a key area for trigger and acupoints.
Since eyebrow movement is the most common challenge for facial palsy sufferers I am sharing how to stretch the eye to regain movement.
This would also be helpful for those that experience deterioration after stress, fatigue or aging. Maintenance after facial palsy is generally required.
My mission is to achieve the maximum level of recovery for every person either beginning their journey, experiencing complications after long-standing facial palsy or for ongoing care even decades after.
If you are recovering from Bell's Palsy I offer extensive information, self treatment videos and mentoring. https://www.nikbalogh.com/bellspalsy
Please comment if you found this helpful or have any questions.