Swallowing (Dysphagia) Therapy
Outpatient dysphagia therapy consists of working with your Speech Language Pathologist two – three times a week, usually for 12 – 16 weeks, with the goal of improving your swallowing functioning.
People who enroll in dysphagia therapy are having difficulties swallowing liquids, solids, and/or medications. Most of the therapy involves strengthening the mouth and throat muscles to better push food through the throat while protecting the airway.
Outpatient dysphagia therapy often consists of using surface electromyographic biofeedback (SEMG). SEMG biofeedback involves placing three small electrodes under your chin. Those electrodes measure electrical activity of your swallowing muscles and display that electrical activity on a computer monitor. You and your therapist can then visually see your swallow on the computer monitor and work to improve the strength, speed, and coordination of your swallow.
Outpatient dysphagia therapy often also includes lingual manometry biofeedback. This includes placing small air-filled bulbs on your tongue. You then press the bulbs against the roof of your mouth with as much effort as you can for a number of seconds or during a swallow. You will then see your tongue strength on the computer screen in front of you. These types of exercises facilitate improving tongue strength.
VitalStim® is also sometimes used in therapy. VitalStim® involves placing small electrodes under your chin. These electrodes deliver electrical current to muscles in your neck area to help rehabilitate your swallowing muscles.
We encourage our patients to attend outpatient dysphagia therapy three times a week for a prescribed number of weeks. For out-of-town patients, intensive therapy schedules of twice a day, five days a week for up to two weeks are sometimes offered.
Swallowing therapy is usually a time-intensive process. The best way to think of swallowing therapy is to think of going to the physical therapist if you were having trouble walking. It is a process that requires time, energy, and discipline to reach your optimal level of oral intake.