Respiratory-swallow training in patients with head and neck cancer

Bonnie Martin-Harris*, David McFarland, Elizabeth G. Hill, Charlton B. Strange, Kendrea L. Focht, Zhuang Wan, Julie Blair, Katlyn Mcgrattan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Abstract Objective To test a novel intervention to train swallowing to occur in the midexpiratory to low expiratory phase of quiet breathing to improve swallowing safety and efficiency. Design Safety and efficacy nonrandomized controlled trial with 1-month follow-up. Setting Ambulatory clinics. Participants Patients (N=30) with head and neck cancer (HNC) and chronic dysphagia completed the intervention. Fifteen of these patients participated in a 1-month follow-up visit. Interventions Training protocol based on hierarchy of motor skill acquisition to encourage autonomous and optimal respiratory-swallowing coordination. Visual feedback of respiratory phase and volume for swallowing initiation was provided by nasal airflow and rib cage/abdomen signals. Main Outcome Measures Respiratory-swallow phase pattern, Modified Barium Swallow Impairment Profile (MBSImP) scores, Penetration-Aspiration Scale (PAS) scores, and MD Anderson Dysphagia Inventory scores. Results Using visual feedback, patients were trained to initiate swallows during the midexpiratory phase of quiet breathing and continue to expire after swallowing. This optimal phase patterning increased significantly after treatment (P<.0001). Changes in respiratory-swallowing coordination were associated with improvements in 3 MBSImP component scores: laryngeal vestibular closure (P=.0004), tongue base retraction (P<.0001), and pharyngeal residue (P=.01). Significant improvements were also seen in PAS scores (P<.0001). Relative to pretreatment values, patients participating in 1-month follow-up had increased optimal phase patterning (P<.0001), improved laryngeal vestibular closure (P=.01), tongue base retraction (P=.003), and pharyngeal residue (P=.006) MBSImP scores and improved PAS scores (P<.0001). Conclusions Improvements in respiratory-swallowing coordination can be trained using a systematic protocol and respiratory phase-lung volume-related biofeedback in patients with HNC and chronic dysphagia, with favorable effects on airway protection and bolus clearance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number56055
Pages (from-to)885-893
Number of pages9
JournalArchives of physical medicine and rehabilitation
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • Deglutition disorders
  • Feedback, sensory
  • Head and neck neoplasms
  • Rehabilitation
  • Respiratory aspiration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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