Swallowing seems like it should be an automatic activity, but some people have difficulty getting down food, liquids, and even saliva. This problem, called dysphagia, can cause pain, discomfort, malnutrition, and other serious medical problems.
Swallowing isn’t as easy as it might seem. It requires the coordination and function of 50 pairs of muscles as well as a number of nerves to get food from the mouth to the stomach. For some people, exercises that strengthen these muscles and improve coordination can help with dysphagia.
At GastroDoxs, Bharat Pothuri, MD helps patients in the greater Houston, Texas, area with the therapy needed to ease the symptoms of dysphagia and grant some independence when it comes to meals.
Whether physical therapy can help with your dysphagia depends a lot on the reason for your condition. The people most likely to experience dysphagia are babies who are born with structural abnormalities of the mouth or palate and older adults.
Older adults may develop dysphagia due to weakened or damaged muscles and nerves, which sometimes result from Parkinson’s disease or cerebral palsy. A stroke or a head injury can also interfere with the function of swallowing muscles and sensation in the mouth and throat.
Cancer of the head, neck, or esophagus and treatment for these diseases can sometimes lead to dysphagia. Dysphagia can occur in those who’ve experienced an injury to the head, neck, or chest, or in people who had an infection that caused narrowing of the esophagus. Older adults with dementia and cognitive decline are also at risk and may benefit from exercises that help improve swallowing.
Exercises that help with swallowing
At GastroDoxs, we can help you or a loved one learn how to perform these exercises regularly.
To improve the ability to swallow:
Do the shaker exercise by lying flat on your back and lifting your head just off the ground so you can see your toes. Hold your head elevated for a few counts and then gently place your head back down Repeat 4-5 times, several times per day.
Do the supraglottic swallow by holding your breath while you place a small amount of food in your mouth and swallow. Cough gently to clear your throat, then exhale. Start without using food and once you have the hang of it, add the bites of food.
To improve swallowing strength and control:
Do the hyoid lift maneuver while sitting at a table with several small slips of paper towel in front of you. Hold a straw in your mouth and suck to pick up the pieces of paper, transferring them to a cup placed a foot or so away. Work on moving 3-5 pieces of paper towel at first and work your way up to 10 or more.
To improve swallowing muscle coordination:
Do the effortful swallow by consciously contracting all the muscles you use in the swallowing as hard as you possibly can. Do 10 repetitions of this exaggerated swallow three times per day.
If you’re suffering symptoms of dysphagia, or a loved one is, contact GastroDoxs for assistance. Our goal is to help you maintain optimal digestive health. Call our office in Houston, Texas, or use the online tool to set up your appointment.