Your normal swallowing function is quite complicated, involving the coordination of several muscles, which can be strengthened by exercises. When it works normally, all of those muscles work together effortlessly. Unfortunately, neurological conditions that damage the brain, nerves, or spinal cord can alter how this process works.
The tongue movements may also be affected by dysphagia, reducing your ability to control this muscle. Some therapies help you regain control, so your tongue moves the food around as it’s supposed to.
The main benefit of swallowing exercises is that they prevent malnutrition and dehydration. Swallowing issues can result in excessive saliva, coughing, or choking, so therapy can deal with these complications well.
There are several swallowing exercises that your therapist may recommend to treat your dysphagia. Each one is designed to improve your swallowing function, though in varying ways. Be sure to speak to a trained therapist before attempting these exercises to be sure they are done properly.
One of the most effective exercises is the Mendelsohn Maneuver, with is designed to improve your swallowing reflex. To perform this maneuver, first locate your Adam’s apple, which is the hard piece located about halfway down your neck. When you swallow, this piece moves up and down.
For this maneuver, when swallowing, squeeze your throat muscles to keep the Adam’s apple at its highest position and hold. Your therapist will recommend how long to hold for. This time will be short at first, though you’ll be able to hold longer as your throat muscles are strengthened.
The Supraglottic Swallow is another one of the most recommended swallowing exercises available. This method involves taking a deep breath and then holding it as you swallow. Then release, coughing to clear away any saliva that has gathered in your throat. As your muscles strengthen, you can even try this technique with food, though only if recommended by your therapist.
Effortful swallowing is another good option. For this exercise, as you swallow, you squeeze all of the involved muscles. Over time, those muscles become stronger.