WSU study expands time window for facial nerve rehabilitation

SPOKANE, WASH. — A research study conducted at Washington State University Spokane offers hope to those suffering from facial nerve damage. According to the study, which was published online this week in the journal Developmental Neurohabilitation, muscle weakness resulting from facial nerve damage incurred during childhood can improve with intensive facial exercise, years after injury.

“Our study shows that there isn’t just a one-year window for facial rehabilitation, which has commonly been assumed in the field,” said Nancy Potter, an author on the study and an assistant professor of speech and hearing sciences at WSU Spokane.

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 as the study’s single subject.

As a child, Perry had been involved in a serious motorcycle accident that left her with serious injuries. Among them was facial nerve damage, which resulted in a right-side facial droop that was not treated at the time as it did not negatively affect her speech.

Thirteen years after her accident, 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 different 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 seven-week intensive exercise program in Phase I. Strength was maintained, though not increased, during a subsequent two-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.

“I’m very excited about these results and the prospects they offer for others affected by facial nerve damage,” said Perry.

Preliminary results of the study were also presented at the 2010 International Conference on Motor Speech. As a result of that presentation, several leading rehabilitation hospitals are currently looking into adopting the study protocol.

A summary of the paper is available at http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/17518423.2011.566595.

About Washington State University Spokane

WSU Spokane is the urban campus of Washington State University, a land-grant research university founded in 1890. WSU is recognized by the Carnegie Foundation as one of just 95 public and private research universities with very high research activity, and U.S. News & World Report ranks it as one of the top public research universities in the nation.

Based on the Riverpoint Campus on the east end of downtown Spokane, WSU Spokane offers advanced studies and research in health sciences and health professions; the design disciplines; education; social and policy sciences; and science and technology.

WSU Spokane is leading the development of the campus as a research-intensive comprehensive academic health science center, which national experts say will have a $2.1 billion impact on the state economy at full build-out. Health disciplines currently represented on campus are medicine; pharmacy; nursing; health policy and administration; and nutrition and exercise physiology, among others.

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