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DigitalBlue's avatar

Do facial muscles weaken over time if they are used less often, like other muscles of the body?

Asked by DigitalBlue (6658 points ) January 14th, 2013

Before I had my last long term bout of depression, I always had a big, bright, wide smile. I have noticed, recently, that my smile now seems tighter and smaller. I can even feel a tightness or stiffness in my face when I try to smile. I mean my natural smile, not forced smiles for photos (though it is noticeable there, as well.)
I am not the only one who has noticed, people who know me well can also see the difference.
Is it possible that going for a long time without happiness (presumably I was doing less smiling), that my smile muscles are weak? Or is this just likely something about the way my face is changing as I get older?

So now I am really just curious, do facial muscles work that way?

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13 Answers

diavolobella's avatar

I don’t think that your facial muscles are weak, but rather you are holding tension in them. If they were weak, your face would be sagging, which does happen with age. More likely you are holding tension in your face and when you do smile, your muscles aren’t as relaxed as they were before you starting doing so, so it feels tight. Smiling requires you to use muscles you are currently clenching. You literally have to “crack” a smile.

I hold tension in my own face quite a bit. It can cause me to get a headache or sleep badly. On occasion I will actually be aware enough to realize I’m doing it and wiggle my jaw and try to relax my face to get myself to stop. I often surprise myself by how hard I am clenching my facial muscles before I become conscious of it.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@diavolobella ah, that makes more sense. I also get headaches and I can feel tension in my face, often, especially when I get stressed.

diavolobella's avatar

@DigitalBlue That’s the first place I seem to hold tension. I really have to watch it, because I’m migraine prone, so I understand. The next place I hold it is my shoulders.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@diavolobella oh yes, absolutely the same here. I get migraines and I also tend to hold a lot of tension in my shoulders, in fact, my headaches often start in my shoulders. I hadn’t thought about it, but I’m sure you’re right in my case. Thank you!

(Not necessarily directed at you, but just to detach the question from myself now)
I am still curious to know how muscles of the face work, though, if it’s comparable to resistance training other muscles of the body. I have often heard about “facial exercises,” but I tend brush it off as nonsense because 1.) you can’t spot reduce and 2.) I am under the impression that movement in the face contributes to wrinkles, so using it for anti-aging is counterproductive. But from a purely anatomical perspective, can the muscles of the face be strengthened through exercise or weaken when they aren’t being used as much or in the same ways?

Mariah's avatar

I think so. For example, if I go a long time without playing my oboe, it is more tiring when I pick it back up again.

diavolobella's avatar

@DigitalBlue I’ll answer the other part of your question. :) It’s true you can’t spot reduce, but you can strengthen and tone any muscle, including the muscles of your face. A muscle is a muscle is a muscle. Then can also atrophy as in people who are in persistent vegetative states where their faces and mouths sag. There are even facial “workout” videos which have their share of believers (I’ve never tried one). I asked my doctor about it once and he felt they would work. Extremely repetitive movement in the face can certainly contribute to wrinkles, but I think it’s more about your skin sagging as you age than it is the muscles underneath. You get lines earlier if you squint a lot or have a lot of sun exposure, but I think wrinkles are more about skin losing elasticity than the underlying muscles weakening.

wildpotato's avatar

Yes, this is possible. It’s quite noticeable if, as Mariah says, you play an instrument with a mouthpiece. The strengthening of the mouth muscles needed to play is called the embouchure, and it takes regular workouts to develop it, like any other muscles. That’s why little kids first learning a brass or woodwind instrument start with just 20 minutes of practice per day, and why I can’t just grab my clarinet right now and expect to coax the same sound from it that I had back when I played every day.

DigitalBlue's avatar

As someone that spent my teens with an oboe or a flute, these are also really easy examples for me to wrap my head around.

Thanks for the great answers, jellies.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t see why facial muscles would be any different than other muscles in the body. I think we build and weaken facial muscles like all muscles. I think that is why couples start to look alike after many years, mimicking facial expressions and building certain muscles over time. Also, I look at some people and can tell they smile a lot, I call them cheerleader cheeks when they are on women (women tend to smile more than men anyway). I have muscle troubles all over my body, and it definitely affects my jaw also. I can only chew gum for 5 or 10 minutes, previously I could for hours.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@JLeslie I know what you’re saying, I do think there is a visible difference, too.

diavolobella's avatar

I’m glad to see my 2nd answer actually showed up. I was trying to post it and lost my connection to Fluther for the rest of the day

HolographicUniverse's avatar

The jaw muscles aren’t significantly impacted when smiling, since smiling isn’t an exercise but rather a reaction, therefore not smiling will yield no strong effects like weaker muscles.
It is that you either hold tension in that area or, even more common, that since you have been smiling less you are reacting to the reduced movement. When one is depressed the smile you’ve had before then will not be the same post depression for emotional reason.

Jamey467's avatar

I have also dealt with a recent bout of depression. Smiling not only became more difficult for me (due to tension), but the action also felt disingenuous and unnatural. A month ago, I began using facial yoga to relax the muscles around my mouth, eyes and cheeks. It works like any other exercise. While strengthening the muscles, it also releases the tension. I guess I’ll see if it helps with fine lines and such in a few months of daily exercise.

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