A study published in the Developmental Neurohabilitation journal found that muscle weakness resulting from facial nerve damage, incurred during childhood, can improve with intensive facial exercise, years after injury.

The study, conducted at Washington State University Spokane, shows that “there isn’t just a 1-year window for facial rehabilitation, which has commonly been assumed in the field," says Nancy Potter, an author of the study and an assistant professor of speech and hearing sciences at the university.

The article, Effects of Strength Training on Neuromuscular Facial Rehabilitation, was authored by Emily Perry, a former graduate student of Potter’s, who served both as a researcher and the study’s single subject. Perry sustained facial nerve damage during her childhood as the result of a motorcycle accident in which she was involved.

Perry worked with Potter and others to design a facial exercise program that involved seven weeks of intensive strength exercises (Phase I) followed by a moderately intense 16-week strength training program (Phase II). The program targeted four muscle regions in her face, using a device normally associated with increasing and measuring tongue strength in patients with swallowing disorders.

Another tool used to measure progress was the Perry Appliance, a custom-designed device consisting of a tape measure attached to a dental whitening tray. It served as a visual aid to several volunteer graders in scoring photos and video footage that showed the extent of facial movement throughout the exercise program.

The results showed a significant increase in strength in all four impaired muscle regions throughout the 7-week intensive exercise program in Phase I. Strength was maintained, though not increased, during a subsequent 2-week rest period and during and after Phase II of the treatment. Though the authors chose to include strengthening exercises only — excluding those focused on increasing range of motion — they also observed an increase in lip raise, making Perry’s smile more symmetrical.

[Source: Washington State University]