Bell's Palsy

What is Bell's palsy?

Bell's palsy is a condition that causes paralysis of the face. It comes on suddenly, affects only one side of the face and has no obvious cause. Bell’s palsy is usually temporary. Physiotherapy is an effective was of treating Bell’s palsy.

What causes Bell's palsy?

The cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown. It is thought, however, that it may be linked to the cold sore virus. This virus can lie dormant on one of the facial nerves and then reactivate at a later date. Other viruses such as chickenpox and shingles can also trigger Bell’s palsy.

What are the symptoms of Bell's palsy?

The onset of Bell's palsy is often very fast. It often occurs over a period of hours or overnight. The main symptom is total paralysis or weakness on one side of the face. This paralysis can cause:

  • a sagging eyebrow

  • difficulty closing the eye.

  • a drooping mouth on one side

  • dribbling on one side of the mouth

  • slurred speech

  • dryness or watering of the affected eye

  • a turned-out lower eyelid

About 80% of people with Bell's palsy recover within three weeks. The other 20% experience gradual improvements over 3 to 6 months, as the nerve regenerates.

What should I do if I have Bell's palsy?

If you suspect that you have Bell’s palsy you should arrange an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.

What shouldn't I do if I have Bell's palsy?

If you suspect that you have Bell’s palsy you should not ignore the problem as you require immediate medical treatment to maximise your chances of making a full recovery.

Medical treatment for Bell's palsy

Your doctor will usually be able to provide you with a diagnosis by listening to your symptoms and looking at your face. Your doctor may perform some tests to rule out other conditions that can cause facial paralysis.

Treatment varies between individuals but most will be prescribed a course of steroids to reduce the inflammation of the facial nerves and some will also be prescribed anti-viral drugs.

  • Regularly close the eye by pulling the upper lid down with your finger.

  • Wear protective glasses or an eye patch.

  • Tape the eye closed before you go to sleep.

  • Use artificial tears (eye drops) to keep the eye moist - ask a pharmacist for advice.

Physiotherapy treatment for Bell's palsy

Physiotherapy is important in the recovery from a Bell’s palsy. The physiotherapists at can provide you with;

  • Advice on maximising your potential for recovery

  • Advice on eye care

  • Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS)

  • A daily exercise programme

  • Postural Realignment

  • Soft Tissue Treatment

The aim of physiotherapy treatment is to stimulate and, therefore, promote the recovery of the damaged nerve fibres. By using the EMS, you can stimulate the nerve fibres whilst maintaining some of the strength of the facial muscles. This allows a faster recovery once the nerves start regenerating themselves. As the muscle strength improves your physiotherapist will show you more exercises to perform to increase the strength of the muscles in your face.