Dysphagia After Stroke: Exercises That Can Help Out

Dysphagia After Stroke

Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is one of the most common disabilities resulting from a stroke. It can lead to many health problems and affect daily living, making eating and drinking difficult. However, with proper treatment, such as exercises for dysphagia, you may improve your ability to swallow after a stroke. In this blog post, we will explore these various exercises for those who have suffered strokes and discuss how they can help ease the burden of dysphagia on an individual’s life.

What Is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is a medical condition characterized by difficulty or discomfort swallowing food, liquids, or saliva. It affects about 50% of stroke survivors. In addition, about 40% of stroke survivors have chronic dysphagia for at least six months after the event.

People who have had a stroke may find relief from dysphagia and restore their ability to swallow properly and successfully by engaging in swallowing training. When dysphagia occurs after a stroke, it is known as post-stroke dysphagia. The underlying cause of dysphagia after stroke is often related to neurological damage

Causes of Dysphagia After Stroke

Dysphagia After Stroke

A stroke can affect the brain’s control over the muscles involved in swallowing, leading to disruptions in the swallowing process. The specific causes of dysphagia after stroke can include:


Damage to the brainstem or cranial nerves: The brainstem and cranial nerves play a crucial role in coordinating and controlling the swallowing process. If these areas are affected by a stroke, it can result in difficulties with swallowing.


Weakness or paralysis of the muscles: A stroke can cause weakness or paralysis of the muscles involved in swallowing, including the muscles in the mouth, throat, and esophagus. This muscle weakness can impair the coordination and movement required for swallowing.


Sensory impairment: The stroke may also affect the sensory nerves responsible for detecting food or liquid in the mouth and throat. This can result in reduced food or liquids awareness, leading to difficulties swallowing.


Reduced coordination and timing: There is a disruption of the coordination and timing of the swallowing reflex, causing delays or disorganized movements during swallowing after a stroke.


It is important to note that post-stroke dysphagia can vary in severity, with some individuals experiencing mild difficulties. In contrast, others may be at risk of aspiration (food or liquid entering the airway). Aspiration can lead to pneumonia and other respiratory complications.

Dysphagia After Stroke

Benefits of Swallowing Exercises Following a Stroke

Here are some benefits of swallowing exercises following a stroke:


Improved swallowing function: Swallowing exercises target the muscles involved in the swallowing process, helping to strengthen and coordinate them. This can lead to improved control and swallowing efficiency, reducing the risk of aspiration and improving overall swallowing function.


Reduced risk of complications: Dysphagia after a stroke increases the risk of complications, such as aspiration pneumonia. Swallowing exercises can help minimize this risk by improving the ability to swallow safely and efficiently, reducing the likelihood of food or liquid entering the airway.


Increased independence and quality of life: Effective dysphagia therapy can significantly enhance a stroke survivor’s ability to eat and drink safely. By improving swallowing function, individuals may regain their ability to enjoy a wider variety of foods and beverages, leading to increased independence and improved quality of life.


Prevention of malnutrition and dehydration: Dysphagia can make consuming adequate food and fluids challenging, which may result in malnutrition and dehydration. Swallowing exercises and dietary modifications recommended by a healthcare professional can help address these issues and ensure proper nutrition and hydration.


Enhanced communication and social interaction: Difficulties with swallowing can impact communication and social interactions, as individuals may avoid eating or drinking in social settings due to embarrassment or fear of choking. By improving swallowing function, swallowing exercises can help restore confidence and participation in social activities involving eating and drinking.


Remember, the benefits of swallowing exercises following a stroke can vary depending on the individual and the severity of dysphagia. However, early intervention and consistent therapy can significantly improve swallowing function and overall well-being.

5 Effective Swallowing Exercises for Stroke Survivors

There are various swallowing exercises, but the ones listed below are constructive for stroke patients. Performing these exercises regularly is an excellent method to foster neuroplasticity and reclaim a secure and effective swallowing mechanism. Before doing any of these activities, it is crucial to contact one’s healthcare provider to ensure safety.

Tongue Hold Exercises

Fortunately, various exercises can be done to alleviate dysphagia and improve the quality of life for post-stroke patients. One such exercise is the Tongue Hold technique, which helps to strengthen the muscles involved in swallowing and improve tongue control.


To perform the Tongue Hold exercise, start by sitting upright and tilting the head back slightly. Then, press the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth, just behind the front teeth, and hold it in this position for a few seconds. From this position, try and swallow whilst keeping the tongue pressed firmly to the roof of the mouth.


This exercise can help strengthen the muscles involved in swallowing, especially the ones in the back of the throat and the tongue. It can also improve tongue control, as the tongue tip is essential in creating the upward pressure necessary for swallowing. These muscle-strengthening exercises can help reduce aspiration risk and enhance overall swallowing function.

Straw Exercises


Expiratory muscle strength training (EMST) is a treatment used by speech therapists to improve patients’ ability to swallow by having them blow vigorously using a pressure barrier device. Although most people do not have suitable pressure limit equipment at home, the ideas of this measure may be adapted to more basic activities requiring breathing using a straw.


Take a deep breath, and then release it via a straw into a glass of water. Exercising the relevant muscles by forcing air through a straw generates resistance.


Avoid the potential for choking by avoiding doing the activities mentioned earlier when your mouth is full. Survivors should also check up with their doctors before beginning unfamiliar swallowing practices.


Patients recovering from stroke may improve certain aspects of their swallowing by engaging in various swallowing activities. In addition, regular practice of such activities may stimulate adaptive modifications to the brain, aiding in a complete recovery by enhancing mobility, strength, and coordination.

Neck Strengthener

The suprahyoid muscles, which aid in swallowing, are among those that may be strengthened with the shaker technique. In addition, the opening at the esophagus’s upper part facilitates food passage.


First, get on your back and lift your head as though you’re attempting to stare at your toes. It’s ideal to do this while keeping your shoulders pressed on the mat or floor. The next step is to lay back your head. Do so five times.


If you want to make the head lifts more challenging, try increasing their length or the number of times you do them. Those who have had a tracheostomy should not do this activity.

Tongue Pushing

The inability to effectively swallow food and drink can lead to malnutrition and dehydration, making it a crucial aspect of post-stroke rehabilitation. One approach to managing dysphagia is tongue thrusting, which involves pushing the tongue forward or upward to facilitate swallowing.


Forward pushing involves placing the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth and gently going forward to move food toward the back of the throat. This technique helps to stimulate the swallowing reflex and can also improve the clearing of residual food and liquid from the mouth.


Upward pushing involves pushing the back of the tongue upward against the roof of the mouth to create a stronger seal and prevent food from entering the nasal cavity. It also helps to activate the muscles used in swallowing, improving the coordination of the swallowing process.


Other tongue thrusting techniques include lateralization, which involves moving food to the side of the mouth with the tongue, and extension, which consists in extending the tongue out of the mouth to remove all food particles. These techniques can be combined to help individuals with dysphagia better control their swallowing and reduce the risk of aspiration.

Breathing Exercises

If you’re having trouble swallowing, try these breathing exercises; they’re easy to learn and helpful. To begin, take a few deep, calm breaths. Next, Inhale deeply, hold your breath for a couple of seconds, then release slowly. The next step is to train yourself to take slow, deep breaths and then release them gently and mindfully. Perform each of these techniques for breathing for five total repetitions.


Stroke patients may greatly benefit from engaging in regular swallowing exercise practice as a means of retraining the brain and enhancing swallowing function. However, various exercises target various aspects of swallowing, so you must go to a speech therapist to figure out which would work best for you.


Many people who have experienced trauma find that eating healthy and regularly spaced meals helps them throughout rehabilitation. Protecting patients with dysphagia after stroke also includes making sure their loved ones know how to recognize the warning symptoms of dysphagia and act accordingly.


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