Background: Facial palsy is a frequent and debilitating sequela of stroke and brain injury, causing functional and aesthetic deficits as well as significant adverse effects on quality of life and well-being. Current literature reports many cases of acquired facial palsy that do not recover spontaneously, and more information is needed regarding the efficacy of physical therapies used in this population.
Methods: A systematic search of eight electronic databases was performed from database inception to December 2018. Gray literature searches were then performed to identify additional articles. Studies were included if they addressed physical rehabilitation interventions for adults with acquired facial palsy. Reasons for exclusion were documented. Independent data extraction, quality assessment, and risk of bias assessment followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines.
Results: Following abstract screening, a total of 13 full-text articles were identified for independent screening by two reviewers. This included four randomized control trials, two non-randomized control trials, one cohort study, and six prospective case series studies. Twelve out of the 13 included studies reported on facial palsy as a sequela of stroke. A total of 539 participants received intervention for facial palsy across the 13 included studies. Therapy design, length and frequency of intervention varied across the studies, and a wide range of outcome measures were used. Improvement on various outcome measures was reported across all 13 studies. The quality of the evidence was low overall, and most studies were found to have high risk of bias.
Conclusions: All the studies in this review report improvement of facial movement or function following application of various methods of physical rehabilitation for facial palsy. Methodological limitations and heterogeneity of design affect the strength of the evidence and prevent reliable comparison between intervention methods. Strong evidence supporting physical rehabilitation was not found; well-designed rigorous research is required.