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Lip Exercises for Regaining Swallowing Ability

Five Lip Exercises for Dysphagia Therapy

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Updated February 21, 2009

Lip Exercises for Regaining Swallowing Ability Hans Neleman/Getty Images
Lip exercises are an important part of therapy for swallowing problems (known medically as "dysphagia therapy"). Why the lips? Well, swallowing is a complicated neurological reflex that involves the coordinated activity of many muscles in the mouth, pharynx and larynx.

And together, these muscles act to manipulate food in the mouth in a coordinated fashion in order to generate smooth movements of the food bolus. This allows the food bolus to be pushed back in a predictable fashion, giving your brain enough time to initiate the swallowing reflex.

The lips play a major role in moving food around the mouth, and in forming the bolus of food that is to be swallowed. But more importantly, they help to create a tight seal which is necessary to prevent food, especially liquids, from leaking out of the mouth during the initiation of the swallowing reflex.

Here are five lip exercises that can help you improve your ability to manipulate food in the mouth and to initiate a swallowing reflex.

  • Fill your cheeks with air and do your best to keep the air in your mouth. Doing this strengthens the ability of the lips to keep a tight seal. As you get better at this, begin to inflate one cheek at a time and pass the air around from one cheek to the other. \

    Try to do your best to keep doing this for 10 to 20 seconds of 10 to 20 repetitions. As you improve, increase the amount of time you spend doing each repetition.

  • With your own hand place a flat, soft object between your lips and try to keep it pressed between them without allowing it to fall. Then try to pull the object out while trying to still keep it in between your lips.

    This exercise can be done with some assistance. A caregiver or family member attempts to pull the object from your lips while you try to keep it there. This is especially helpful if you have movement impairments such as hemiparesis. This can be done for 10 seconds at a time. Start doing 5 repetitions and try to advance as your lips get stronger.

  • Now take the object out and repeat the exercise by pressing the lips together for about 10 seconds each time. Rest for about 15 to 20 seconds in between and then repeat the exercise.

    Try to do this 5 to 10 times, and to increase the duration of the exercise and the number of repetitions as you get stronger.

  • Now pucker your lips as though you were about to kiss your favorite person. But don't let go. Keep your lips puckered for 10 seconds. Repeat the exercise 5 to 10 times.
  • This exercise is a easy as the previous one. Smile! Just keep the smile on your face for 10 seconds or more. This forces the corners of your mouth to move back, making your lips stronger in the process.

    As they do, try to make an even bigger smile each time. And don't forget, increase the number or repetitions and the duration of each repetition.

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