Physical therapy for facial nerve paralysis (Bell's palsy): An updated and extended systematic review of the evidence for facial exercise therapy

Clin Rehabil. 2022 Nov;36(11):1424-1449. doi: 10.1177/02692155221110727. Epub 2022 Jul 5.


Objective: To conduct a systematic review of the effectiveness of facial exercise therapy for facial palsy patients, updating an earlier broader Cochrane review; and to provide evidence to inform the development of telerehabilitation for these patients.

Data sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, PEDro and AMED for relevant studies published between 01 January 2011 and 30 September 2020.

Methods: Predetermined inclusion/exclusion criteria were utilised to shortlist abstracts. Two reviewers independently appraised articles, systematically extracted data and assessed the quality of individual studies and reviews (using GRADE and AMSTAR-2, respectively). Thematic analysis used for evidence synthesis; no quantitative meta-analysis conducted. The review was registered with PROSPERO (CRD42017073067).

Results: Seven new randomised controlled trials, nine observational studies, and three quasi-experimental or pilot studies were identified (n = 854 participants). 75% utilised validated measures to record changes in facial function and/or patient-rated outcomes. High-quality trials (4/7) all reported positive impacts; as did observational studies rated as high/moderate quality (3/9). The benefit of therapy at different time points post-onset and for cases of varying clinical severity is discussed. Differences in study design prevented data pooling to strengthen estimates of therapy effects. Six new review articles identified were all rated critically low quality.

Conclusion: The findings of this targeted review reinforce those of the earlier more general Cochrane review. New research studies strengthen previous conclusions about the benefits of facial exercise therapy early in recovery and add to evidence of the value in chronic cases. Further standardisation of study design/outcome measures and evaluation of cost-effectiveness are recommended.

Keywords: Bell's palsy; COVID-19; facial exercise therapy; systematic review; telerehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Bell Palsy* / drug therapy
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Facial Nerve
  • Facial Paralysis* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Physical Therapy Modalities