Jaw Exercises for Dysphagia Therapy

Many stroke patients need dysphagia therapy to help strengthen their jaw

Woman with jaw ache
Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

According to a 2015 study, approximately 33 to 73 percent of stroke patients are reported to experience dysphagia, a disorder that causes difficulty with chewing and swallowing food. Dysphagia can cause serious complications such as aspiration pneumonia, dehydration, and malnutrition, and may occasionally lead to death.

Stroke and Dysphagia

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients.

Within minutes, brain cells begin to die. Stroke can affect the areas of the brain that control the muscles of chewing. This causes difficulty generating a mass of food that is soft and small enough to be swallowed. Indirectly, this leads to dysphagia. This is why for many people, jaw exercises can dramatically improve the ability to swallow. Dysphagia therapy can help a person maintain quality of life.

Introduction to Dysphagia Therapy

Dysphagia therapy involves a variety of exercises which range from jaw and lip, to tongue and actual swallowing exercises. The jaw is most important during chewing, when it helps us break food down into smaller pieces which are combined into a single food bolus.

Here you'll find three simple exercises which can help you regain your jaw strength and return a great deal of your swallowing ability.

Sideway Jaw Stretch

This exercise helps to recreate some of the actual movements performed during chewing, but just a little more exaggerated.

Simply move your jaw from one side to the other going as far sideways as you can. You should not feel pain from this exercise, but you should be able to feel stretching of the muscle. Challenge yourself and push a little bit farther each day. But always stop if you begin to feel pain, or if you develop a jaw cramp.

Repeat 5 to 10 times in each session.

Open Jaw Stretch

The point of this exercise is to stretch the jaw muscles. Make believe that you are about to bite on a gigantic apple and open your mouth as wide as you can. Don't open it so wide that you develop a cramp, but make sure that as you open it you feel that the muscles of the jaw are actually being stretched. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times keeping your mouth open for 5 to 10 seconds each time.

Jaw Circles

With your jaw, draw circles in the air. In other words, move your jaw in a circular motion trying make the largest circle possible. Again, try to stretch the muscles as you do this. Perform this exercise 5 to 10 times.

Sources:
U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. "Effects of neck exercises on swallowing function of patients with stroke." J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Apr; 27(4): 1005–1008. Published online 2015 Apr 30.

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