Leg, arm, abdominal, and even neck exercises are familiar to almost everybody, but what about swallowing exercises? Many may not understand what they are or why they are necessary, but this quick guide will walk readers through the necessity for having a strong tongue, how speech-language pathologists can help with swallowing conditions and the types of food and drink that make swallowing easier.
The Necessity for Tongue Strengthening
There are several reasons why somebody may have trouble swallowing, ranging from having had a stroke, a head injury, or having dementia. For those affected, swallowing problems, or dysphagia, are life-changing and strengthening the tongue, choosing food and drink carefully, and receiving therapy are essential treatments.
Having a strong tongue is essential as it is the first muscle in the body to take action when swallowing. Though it usually happens completely subconsciously, the tongue rounds food up into a ball and pushes it to the back of the mouth, allowing it to travel down the esophagus and towards the stomach.
Keeping tongues clean is the first step to keeping them healthy, but there are also some tongue-strengthening exercises that may help those who have dysphagia. Pushing a flat object against an outstretched tongue for a few seconds at a time is a simple exercise that could go a long way to improving swallowing conditions.
For more serious cases of dysphagia, speech and language therapy could be necessary. speech-language pathologists are specialists in the field of swallowing exercises and treatments and work specifically with those who have developed the disorder, either from birth or through illness.
SLPs can also help with speech disorders and communications issues, making them some of the most valuable pathologists found in hospitals.
Food and Drink
Ginger tea, hot lemon water, and warm soup are all fantastic and soothing options for those having trouble swallowing, and those who have lived with dysphagia for some time will no doubt be familiar with such throat-friendly beverages. Another great option for helping with swallowing disorders is a food and drink thickener such as SimplyThick gel which quickly turns substances into better textures for those who struggle with thin liquids or hard solids.
Even vegetables can be pureed and let down with broth, thickened with thickener, if necessary, to suit people with dysphagia. Combined with swallowing exercises, the effects of dysphagia will hopefully be assuaged.
SLPs are likely to prescribe specific exercises to their patients, but the list of example exercises below from Hopkins Medicine are excellent starting points for people who think they may be beginning to experience dysphagia:
- Hold your tongue back as far as possible and pretend to gargle
- Squeeze all your swallowing muscles as tightly as possible and do a dry swallow
- Push your tongue to just behind your teeth before curling it to the back of your mouth as far as you can. Hold here for a few seconds
For these exercises, Hopkins Medicine recommends turning off the television or music to fully concentrate.