Swallowing Exercises: How to Do Larynx-Lifting Exercises

What are larynx-lifting exercises?

Larynx-lifting exercises are done to help improve swallowing. They are a type of treatment when you have trouble swallowing (dysphagia). The exercises may help you increase the strength and mobility of the muscles of your larynx (voice box) over time. This may help the ability to swallow. These exercises are sometimes used with other types of swallowing exercises.

Before you swallow, you chew your food to a size, shape, and texture that can be swallowed. When you swallow this material, it passes through your mouth and down through parts of your throat called the pharynx and larynx. From here, the food or liquid passes through a long tube (esophagus) before entering your stomach. This movement requires a series of actions from the muscles in these areas.

When you breathe, air passes through your pharynx and larynx, too. It then travels down through a long tube (trachea) before it reaches your lungs. There is a small piece of tissue called the epiglottis that acts like a flap and covers your trachea when you swallow food or drink. This is so food and fluids don't go into your trachea and lungs.

Muscle weakness in these areas can make proper swallowing difficult. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) may prescribe specific swallowing exercises to improve your swallowing. Swallowing exercises can give increased strength, mobility, and control to these muscles. Over time, this may help you to swallow normally again.

Why might I need larynx-lifting exercises?

You might need to use larynx-lifting exercises if you have dysphagia. Dysphagia can lead to food or fluid going into the airways or lungs (aspiration). This can lead to pneumonia and other problems. Because of this, it’s important to promptly identify and treat your dysphagia if you have it.

Medical conditions can lead to dysphagia. Some examples are:

  • Stroke

  • Severe dental problems

  • Mouth lesions

  • Conditions that reduce saliva such as Sjögren syndrome

  • Parkinson disease or other nervous system conditions

  • Muscular dystrophies

  • Blockage in the esophagus, such as from a tumor

  • History of radiation, chemotherapy, or both to the neck or throat for cancer

An SLP may be more likely to prescribe larynx-lifting exercises if they think you are having reduced laryngeal motion that is causing you trouble with the pharyngeal phase of swallowing. For example, this might happen from neck cancer or after a stroke.

What are the risks of larynx-lifting exercises?

Larynx-lifting exercises are safe. If you have any discomfort during the exercises, you can stop doing them. Let your healthcare provider or therapist know right away. Don’t practice these exercises unless someone from your medical team prescribes them to you.

How do I get ready for larynx-lifting exercises?

Before you start your larynx-lifting exercises, you may need to change your body position. Ask your healthcare provider or SLP on the best position for this exercise. Your SLP will give you instructions on how to do this, if needed. For example, it may be better to do these exercises while out of bed.

It's also helpful to remove distractions from your environment. Turn off the TV and do the exercises at a time when you won’t have visitors. This will let you focus on your exercises and get the most benefit from them. You can do these exercises at any time that is convenient for you. Your SLP will let you know if there is anything else you need to do before getting started.

What happens during larynx-lifting exercises?

The exercises will depend on the exact nature of your swallowing problem. For example, you may have a problem with the second phase of swallowing. This is when the food material is in your pharynx. If so, you may benefit from working the muscles in your larynx. Larynx-lifting exercises may help you keep your food moving normally down through the pharynx and into the esophagus. If you have a problem with other stages of swallowing, your SLP might give you different swallowing exercises.

You can do these exercises in your hospital room or at home. Often you can do them on your own, but you may also work with a health provider to practice these exercises.

Your SLP can show you the exercises you should do and explain how often to do them. For example, you may be asked to try these:

  • Mendelsohn maneuver. Start to swallow. Use your throat muscles to stop your Adam’s apple, also known as the larynx or voice box, at its highest point for a couple of seconds. At first, it may help you to use fingers to help keep it up, until you understand the movement that is involved. Then finish the swallow by letting your Adam’s apple to return to a resting position.

  • Falsetto exercise. Use your voice to slide up the pitch scale as high as you can, to a high, squeaky voice. Hold the high note for several seconds with as much strength as possible. While you do this, you can gently pull up on your Adam’s apple.

Both of these exercises help lift the larynx, which may improve your swallowing.

Your SLP can tell you how to do each exercise and how often you should practice it. In many cases, you’ll need to practice your exercises several times a day for the most benefit.

You will likely be doing larynx-lifting exercises along with other types of swallowing exercises. If so, do these in the same order each time. This will help make sure you don’t forget any exercises.

What happens after larynx-lifting exercises?

You can go back to your normal activities right after you finish practicing your larynx-lifting and other exercises.

As part of your treatment plan, your healthcare provider and SLP may prescribe other treatments. These may include changes to your diet, changes in eating position, medicines, or surgery.

It’s a good idea to keep a record every time you do your swallowing exercises. This serves as a reminder to you to do your exercises as prescribed. It also provides helpful feedback on your progress to your SLP. Make a note of what exercises you did and when you did them. Also note any problems, so you can discuss them with your SLP.

Your SLP and medical team may modify your exercises as they watch your progress over time. You may have bedside swallowing exams. And you may have other tests, such as a fiberoptic evaluation of swallowing (FEES) test. This is when a very thin, flexible scope is inserted through your nose to look at your throat as you swallow.

It may take a few weeks to notice an improvement in your swallowing. As your ability to swallow improves, your risk for aspiration will decrease. Your SLP may be able to change your diet and allow you to eat certain types of food again. This can improve your nutrition, your overall health, and your quality of life. You may still have problems with swallowing even after practicing these exercises regularly. Your SLP will tell you what kind of progress to expect.

Continue to practice all your swallowing exercises as prescribed by your SLP. You will benefit most from following the therapy exactly as prescribed. Your progress may be less if you skip practice sessions. Work closely with all the members of your healthcare team. This will improve your chance of having a good outcome.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure, make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure

  • The reason you are having the test or procedure

  • What results to expect and what they mean

  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure

  • What the possible side effects or complications are

  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure

  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are

  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure

  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about

  • When and how you will get the results

  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems

  • How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure

Online Medical Reviewer: Ashutosh Kacker MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2022
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