Tongue Exercises for Dysphagia Therapy

Tongue Exercises for Dysphagia Therapy

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What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is the diminished ability to properly chew and swallow food. The action of chewing and swallowing involves coordination between the brain, nerves and muscles. Damage to the brain from a stroke, dementia, brain tumors or other brain disease can impair chewing and swallowing. Damage to the cervical spine (the upper part of the spine) can also cause dysphagia by impairing the nerves that control the muscles of chewing and swallowing

How Is the Tongue Involved in Chewing and Swallowing?

There are a number of muscles that work together in different phases of chewing and swallowing, and the tongue is one of those muscles.

The tongue is a key participant in the mechanism of swallowing. It moves food around the mouth and helps to form an adequate food bolus (chewed and lubricated food.) The tongue is also needed for transporting the food bolus back towards the pharynx (back of the throat,) where it can be further channeled into the esophagus by other similarly important muscles.

After the tongue aids in the process of swallowing, the rest of the muscles and nerves take over.

Strokes and other brain injuries can impair tongue movement, which invariably impairs the ability to swallow. Lack of normal swallowing ability is a serious problem and can result in pneumonia or severe choking, potentially blocking air from getting into the lungs.

Like all of the other muscles in the body, the tongue has the ability to recover, at least partially, with appropriate exercise. In fact, the effectiveness of tongue exercises for dysphagia caused by stroke has been demonstrated by scientific research studies. One study showed that 8 weeks of special tongue exercises induced significant improvements in swallowing and quality of life.

The exercises described below are meant to serve as a standard way of strengthening tongue function. For some survivors of brain injury and stroke, these exercises will be fairly easy to do. For others, performing them may feel as challenging as running an Olympic marathon.

 As each exercise becomes easier to do, you can set higher strength and repetition goals by applying more strength to each repetition, or increasing the number of repetitions.

Tongue Exercises

  1. Open your mouth as wide as you can, and touch the tip of your tongue to you upper teeth or to the front of the palate. Do this for 3 to 5 seconds, and repeat 5 to 10 times.
  2. Again, open your mouth and touch the tip of your tongue to the back of the roof of your mouth. Keep your tongue back for 3 to 5 seconds, and repeat 5-10 times.
  3. Stick your tongue out as far as you can, and leave it there for approx 10 seconds. Do this 5 to 10 times.
  4. Bring the tip of the tongue to the very back of the roof of your mouth, and keep it there for about 10 seconds. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times.
  5. Move the tip of your tongue across the roof of your mouth from the very front (just behind your upper teeth) to the very back (to where the soft palate is located). Do this 10 times, bringing it as far back as possible each time. Repeat the exercise 5 to 10 times.
  1. Press the inside of each cheek with the tip of your tongue. Repeat the exercise 5 to 10 times.
  2. Stick your tongue out as far as you can. Using its tip, press up against a spoon or some other clean object. Do this for 5 seconds. Repeat this exercise 10 times.

Depending on how weakened your tongue muscles have become after a stroke, you might or might not be able to perform one or more of the exercises.

A Word From Verywell

A stroke can have some unexpected affects, such as trouble swallowing, muscle spasticity and incontinence. While these affects are not disabling, they can interfere with your life.

It is important that you discuss each of your stroke problems with your medical team so that you can get help and recover as fully as possible.

Find out more about how you can cope with effects of a stroke such as incontinence and muscle spasticity.

Sources:

Dysphagia in a Patient with Cervical Dystonia, Pauly M, Hogan T, Spindler M, Dysphagia. 2017 Apr 22.

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