Facial palsy patients helped by mouth massage
A physiotherapist has found that patients with facial palsy can recover movement in "dead nerves" by having the inside of their mouths stretched.
The low-tech solution was discovered by specialist neurological physiotherapist Lorraine Clapham at Southampton General Hospital.
The discovery gives hope to patients who suffer from conditions such as Bell's palsy.
The breakthrough has been named Clapham's sign in her honour.
Facial paralysis can be caused by damage to nerves through injury, surgery or unexplained syndromes, which make muscles to weaken and droop.
Bell's palsy is the most common cause and although most make a good recovery, some are left with muscle weakness.
By stretching the inside of the cheeks of several patients who have complete facial nerve palsy with a finger, while performing routine checks for ulcerations or trauma, Ms Clapham caused the paralysed facial muscles to move - something not seen before.
Researchers believe it could help maintain muscle metabolism and prevent wastage and kick-start movement in patients struck by a syndrome.
It may also help patients who have undergone surgery make a quicker recovery.
The procedure was reported in the Journal of Laryngology & Otology and is under further investigation.
Ms Clapham said: "The presence of this sign may be an important indicator regarding the recovery of the facial nerve and movements of the face.
"It may also help surgeons decide if and when surgery should be offered to try and restore facial movements."