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Neuromuscular retraining therapy for early stage severe Bell's palsy patients minimizes facial synkinesis.

OBJECTIVE: To explore whether early physical interventions, including neuromuscular retraining therapy, can minimize excessive movement or any unwanted co-contraction after a severe Bell's palsy.

DATA SOURCES: From March 2021 to August 2022, the therapist treated Bell's palsy patients for the acute (<3 months, Group A), subacute (3-6 months, Group B) and chronic (> 6 months, Group C) stages of the condition.

METHODS: We explored whether early physical interventions, including neuromuscular retraining therapy, can minimize facial synkinesis after a severe episode of Bell's palsy. Each patient was informed about the potential for synkinesis and the therapist explained that the main purpose of neuromuscular retraining therapy is to learn new patterns to minimize synkinesis. The facial function of Group A was compared to that of Groups B and C using the 'Synkinesis' scale of the Sunnybrook Facial Grading System.

RESULTS: The final facial function score after neuromuscular retraining therapy was significantly associated with both the initial electroneuronographic degeneration rate and initial facial function. Early therapy did not prevent synkinetic movement in 84.7% of the patients. But, there was a significant difference between patients who started early neuromuscular retraining therapy and other groups in final facial function.

CONCLUSION: Synkinesis in Bell's palsy patients can be minimized if physiotherapy commences before synkinesis develops; appropriate neuromuscular retraining therapy timing is essential. A patient with sudden severe Bell's palsy should receive oral steroids as soon as possible, along with physical therapy (including neuromuscular retraining therapy) within 3 months, to minimize synkinesis just before synkinesis onset.

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