The Impact of Cervical Spinal Disease on Pharyngeal Swallowing Function

Rameen K. Walters, Rachana Gudipudi, Kate Davidson, Melissa Cooke, Jenna Barengo, Drasti Smyre, Kendrea L. Garand, Bonnie Martin-Harris, Maria G. Matheus, Shaun A. Nguyen, Ashli K. O’rourke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Spinal pathology is very common with advancing age and can cause dysphagia; however, it is unclear how frequently these pathologies affect swallowing function. This study evaluates how cervical spinal pathology may impact swallowing function in dysphagic individuals observed during videofluoroscopic swallowing studies (VFSSs). Method: A retrospective case–control study was performed on 100 individuals with dysphagia as well as age-/gender-matched healthy controls (HCs) with available VFSS. Spinal anatomy of patients was classified into two predetermined cate-gories, and a consensus decision of whether spinal pathology influenced swallowing physiology was made. Validated swallow metrics, including Modified Barium Swallow Impairment Profile (MBSImP) component scores, Penetration–Aspiration Scale (PAS) maximum scores, and 10-item Eating Assessment Tool (EAT-10) scores, were compared between the spine-associated dysphagia (SAD), non-SAD (NSAD), and HC groups using Kruskal–Wallis one-way analysis of variance. Results: Most patients with dysphagia had spinal pathology. Spinal pathology was judged to be the primary etiology of dysphagia in 16.9% of patients with abnormal spine pathology. Median EAT-10 scores were statistically different among the three groups, with the NSAD group scoring the highest and the HC group scoring the lowest. Similarly, median PAS scores were significantly different between dysphagic groups and HCs. Median MBSImP Oral Total scores were significantly different only between the NSAD group and HCs, whereas Pharyngeal Total score was not significantly different among the groups. Conclusions: Spinal pathology is commonly observed during VFSS and can contribute to dysphagia, resulting in worse swallowing-related outcomes when compared with HCs. Patients judged to have SAD tended to have better outcomes than patients with dysphagia from other etiologies, perhaps due to the progressive nature of spinal disease that allows for compensatory swallowing physiology over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)565-575
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican journal of speech-language pathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Speech and Hearing
  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Linguistics and Language


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