Swallowing Exercises For Dysphagia

Swallowing Exercises For Dysphagia Therapy

Neurological conditions are characterized by damage to the brain, spinal cord or nerves. This damage can cause trouble with swallowing, which is referred to as dysphagia.

Causes Of Dysphagia

The most common conditions associated with dysphagia include

  • stroke
  • head trauma
  • multiple sclerosis
  • cerebral palsy
  • dementia
  • tumors of the brain or spinal cord
  • cervical spine injury
  • motor neuron disease 
  • myopathy

Symptoms and Complications Of Dysphagia

Swallowing difficulties can result in drooling, choking, and even an infection of the lungs called aspiration pneumonia.

To avoid these complications of dysphagia, the evaluation of neurological illness often involves a formal swallowing assessment. This can help identify dysphagia before complications occur.

Exercises For Dysphagia

Therapies designed to improve swallowing are focused on strengthening muscles and building coordination of the nerves and muscles involved in swallowing. Exercising your swallowing muscles is the best way to improve your ability to swallow.

In addition to the exercises you may do with your therapist, you can also improve your swallowing function with at-home swallowing exercises. Here are some of the different exercises developed by dysphagia rehabilitation experts.

Shaker Exercise

Lie flat on your back and raise your head as though you were trying to fixate your gaze on your toes. While you do this, make sure not to raise your shoulders. This simple exercise can strengthen muscles to improve swallowing ability.

It is best to do the exercise three to six times per day for at least six weeks. If you are able to successfully carry out the exercises, then you can prolong the duration of each head lift and increase the number of repetitions.

Hyoid Lift Maneuver

Place a few small pieces of paper (about 1 inch in diameter) over a blanket or a towel.

Then place a straw in your mouth and suck one of the pieces of paper to its tip. Keep sucking on the straw to keep the paper attached, bring it over a cup or a similar container and stop sucking. This will release the paper into the container. Your goal for each session is to place about 5 to 10 pieces of paper into the container as a means to build your muscle strength and control.

Mendelsohn Maneuver

This simple exercise is very effective at improving the swallowing reflex. It involves swallowing your own saliva. Normally, as the saliva enters the area just behind your mouth while swallowing, your "Adam's apple" (the hard area about halfway down the front of your neck) moves up and then back down. To do this exercise, keep the Adam's apple elevated for about 2 to 5 seconds each time. In order to better understand the movement, you can keep you Adam's apples elevated with your fingers at first. Repeat this exercise several times per day until you are able to control your swallowing muscles without assistance from your hands.

Effortful Swallow

The purpose of this exercise is to improve the contact and coordination between the different muscles used during the act of swallowing. In essence, the exercise consists of swallowing.

But as you do it, you must try to squeeze all of the muscles of swallowing as hard as you can. You do not need to swallow food during the exercise. Just a dry swallow will do. Perform this exercise 5 to 10 times, 3 times per day to strengthen your muscles.

Supraglottic Swallow

You should try this exercise without food first. As you become better at the exercise, you can try it with actual food in your mouth. This exercise consists of 3 simple steps. First, take a deep breath. Hold it as you swallow, then cough to clear any residues of saliva or food which might have gone down past your vocal cords.

Super Supraglottic Swallow Maneuver

This exercise is just like the supraglottic maneuver described above, but with an extra twist. After you take that deep breath, bear down while swallowing. The pressure generated helps with swallowing and increases the strength of your swallowing muscles.

A Word From Verywell

Stroke recovery takes time and, often, effort as well. Swallowing ability is one of the most complicated maneuvers that you do on a regular basis. And typically, swallowing is considered an effortless, reflexive action. Regaining your ability to safely swallow is an important way to prevent post- stroke complications.

 Stroke recovery also involves a number of different types of exercises. Find out about the 6 types of post- stroke therapies that you may need.


Rehabilitation of Swallowing and Cough Functions Following Stroke: An Expiratory Muscle Strength Training Trial, Hegland KW, Davenport PW, Brandimore AE, Singletary FF, Troche MS, Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2016 Aug;97(8):1345-51


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