Face Numbness After Head Injury: What You Need to Know
Do you have a headache, feel lightheaded, or experience numbness in your face after sustaining a head injury? If so, you are not alone. These are all common symptoms of a concussion. This blog post will discuss the causes and treatment options for face numbness after a head injury. We will also provide some tips on preventing concussions from occurring in the first place.
- Numbness: An Overview
- Facial numbness: Possible causes
- Diagnosing Numbness After Head Injury
- Facial Numbness After Head Injury: The treatment
- Seek Help for Head Injury
- Recovery from Head Injury
Numbness: An Overview
Numbness refers to the loss of sensation in any part of your body. Numbness on your face isn’t a condition but a symptom of something else. Most causes of facial numbness are related to compression of your nerves or nerve damage, particularly your trigeminal nerve. Having instances of your face feeling numb once in a while isn’t that unusual, although it can feel strange or frightening.
Facial numbness: Possible causes
Several underlying factors can cause facial numbness. Here are nine possible conditions that could be causing your face to feel numb.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory condition that affects your nerves. This condition is chronic, but it progresses at different rates for different people. Most people with MS may experience short periods of worsening symptoms followed by long stretches of very few symptoms. One of the first symptoms of MS is often facial numbness.
Facial numbness alone is not enough to warrant testing for MS. Other early symptoms can include:
- loss of coordination
- impaired nerve function
- loss of bladder control
- blurred or loss of vision
- painful spasms in your legs or arms
Bell’s palsy is a condition that typically causes numbness on one side of your face. Bell’s palsy sets in suddenly and is most likely caused by the herpes virus. If you have Bell’s palsy, facial numbness is due to damage to the nerves in your face.
To diagnose Bell’s palsy, your doctor will need to rule out other possible causes for your facial numbness. Neurological imaging, such as an MRI or electromyography, will determine if the nerves that control your face have been damaged.
Bell’s palsy is most often a temporary condition, but it can last for months or even years.
A certain type of migraine headache can cause numbness on one side of your body. This is called a hemiplegic migraine. In addition to facial numbness, you might experience:
- vision problems
- speech difficulties
Typically, these migraine symptoms go away after 24 hours.
Facial numbness on one side or spread over your entire face can happen after you’ve had a stroke or ministroke. Numbness, tingling, or loss of control over facial muscles may come with other symptoms such as:
- severe headache
- difficulty speaking or swallowing
- sudden vision loss in one or both eyes
- balance problems
Strokes are caused by obstructed or ruptured arteries.
A doctor will be able to tell if you’ve had a stroke based on your symptoms. In some cases, the symptoms will disappear when you get to a hospital or doctor’s office. Have someone keep a log of your symptoms (like persistent headaches), when they began, and how long they lasted until you can seek medical attention.
Viral and bacterial infections can result in facial numbness. Dental problems, including infections underneath your gums and in the roots of your teeth, can also cause this symptom. Other infections that can lead to a feeling of numbness over one side or all over your face include:
- blocked saliva glands
- swollen lymph nodes
These infections need to be treated for your face to feel normal again. Your doctor may need to do a culture test or refer you to dentist or an infectious disease specialist to address an infection causing facial numbness.
Taking certain drugs can have the side effect of temporary facial numbness. Prescription drugs and other substances that can have this effect include:
- chemotherapy drugs
- amitriptyline (Elavil) and other antidepressants
Even if numbness isn’t a listed side effect on a medication you’re taking, it’s possible that beginning a new prescription is why your face feels numb. Speak to your doctor if you suspect that you’re experiencing this side effect.
A direct blow to your head, a concussion, and other trauma to your brain can damage the brain cells and nerves in your spinal cord and at the base of your brain. These nerves control the feeling in your face. In most cases, facial numbness isn’t caused by a head injury, but it does happen. Facial numbness can set in on one or both sides of your face up to 24 hours after head trauma.
You’ll need to describe the injury in detail to your doctor. After the initial physical examination (prioritizing your nervous system), your doctor may order brain imaging such as an MRI to rule out post-concussion syndrome.
Contact allergies can cause numbness in your face or mouth. In the case of a food allergy, facial numbness can be accompanied by numbness or tingling in your tongue and lips.
Other contact allergy causes, such as ragweed and poison ivy, can also numb your face if your skin comes in direct contact with the allergen.
If your doctor is trying to identify a new allergic reaction, you may be referred to an allergy specialist or a doctor who specializes in the immune system. Facial numbness of this type will be directly connected to exposure to the allergen and should resolve on its own within 24 hours.
Lyme disease is an infection caused by tick bites. The tick must be on your skin for at least 24 hours to transmit the bacteria that causes the infection into your bloodstream. One of the symptoms of untreated Lyme disease can be facial numbness.
By the time you experience facial numbness due to Lyme disease, the rash from a tick bite would be long gone, and you’d have other symptoms of the condition. These symptoms could include:
- mental fogginess
- difficulty concentrating
- tingling or numbness in other parts of your body
Suppose your doctor thinks you might have Lyme disease. In that case, you’ll have blood and spinal fluid tests to determine if your body has produced antibodies to fight the bacteria that cause the condition and whether you show ongoing signs of an infection.
Diagnosing Numbness After Head Injury
Since both a pinched nerve and brain damage can lead to numbness after a head injury, it’s essential to determine which one is causing problems.
Doctors will perform various tests for an accurate diagnosis, such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or CT scans that let them see which parts of the brain have inadequate blood flow that might be affected.
Your doctor may also use a nerve conduction velocity test, which measures the electrical signals moving through your peripheral nerves. This method can effectively determine whether your numbness is due to nerve damage or brain damage.
Finally, you can also try treatment with a physical therapist to determine if your neck injury is causing numbness.
Facial Numbness After Head Injury: The Medical Treatment
Once you determine what is causing your sensory issues, you can target effective treatments. If your numbness was caused by brain damage, sensory reeducation is one of the most effective treatment approaches.
Sensory reeducation, also known as sensory stimulation, is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that helps the brain function and relearn how to interpret sensation. It has proven effective in helping people to regain sensation.
Massage Therapy and Acupuncture
If the pinched nerve is in your neck, massage therapy and manual manipulation can relieve pressure on the nerves, which may restore sensation.
Many people also find relief from their numbness through acupuncture. While there is minimal research on the effectiveness of acupuncture on numbness, there is evidence that it relieves neuropathy.
Since numbness is a form of neuropathy, acupuncture might be effective and successful for you.
Electrical stimulation is another treatment option that may decrease numbness after a head injury. E-stim is a popular therapy that involves electrical impulses delivered to your muscles through adhesive electrodes placed on your skin.
Treating numbness and other nerve issues requires the use of a TENS unit. These deliver a slightly lower electrical pulse, which allows it to stimulate your nerves without activating your muscles. Therapists may recommend trying TENS first before choosing the other treatments listed above.
Some patients develop a tolerance to electrical stimulation after prolonged use. To avoid this, try alternating between low and high frequencies. Your therapist can recommend the most effective frequencies for you.
Finally, anti-inflammatory drugs can provide relief from tingling and burning sensations that accompany numbness.
Other drugs that may help alleviate numbness include lidocaine patches and certain antidepressants.
Do not begin any medications without permission from your doctor.
Seek Help for Head Injury
Most of the time, numbness will fade on its own and is not life-threatening. However, there are times when it’s a sign of a more critical condition.
If you experience numbness after your head injury, get to the hospital immediately if you also display these signs:
- Severe headache
- Uncontrollable vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Neck stiffness
- Double vision
The doctor at the ER may administer tests to determine if these symptoms are signs of more severe brain damage.
Recovery from Head Injury
Face numbness after a head injury can either be caused by traumatic brain injury or nerve damage.
Once you can determine the source of your numbness, you can start appropriate treatment after talking with your physical therapist. Treatment may include sensory retraining, electrical stimulation, massage therapy, and acupuncture.
It may take some time before you notice improvements, so please do not give up. The brain is a remarkably adaptive organ, and with treatment, you can live your best life with adaptations.