Lip Exercises for Regaining Swallowing Ability

Lip exercises are an important component of therapy for dysphagia, or the impairment of swallowing. Dysphagia can occur as a result of neurological or muscle disease affecting the muscles and functions involved in the ability to swallow.

If left unaddressed, dysphagia can be a serious health problem that can cause choking or limit your ability to eat certain foods. Exercises, including lip exercises, can help improve your ability to safely swallow.

Woman puckering lips
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Muscles and Nerves Involved In Swallowing

Normally, swallowing is a complicated task. It involves both voluntary action and neurological reflexes that require the coordinated activity of many nerves and muscles in your mouth, lips, pharynx, and larynx.

Together, all of these muscles work to move food in your mouth in a coordinated way to generate smooth movements of the food bolus (chewed up food). The muscles form the food bolus through chewing actions and push back the bolus into the throat with controlled movements while the brain controls your swallowing reflex.

Your lips play a major role in moving food around your mouth and in forming the food bolus to be swallowed. Also, your lips help to create a tight seal to prevent food and liquids from leaking out of your mouth during the swallowing process.

Lip Exercises for Improving Dysphagia

If you have dysphagia, you will need a formal speech and swallow evaluation, which can define your specific nerve and muscle abilities and dysfunction. After your evaluation, your speech and swallow therapist can create a plan for your therapy. 

Here are five lip exercises that can help you improve your ability to manipulate food in your mouth as your brain and muscles work together to initiate the swallowing reflex:

  • Fill your cheeks with air and do your best to keep the air in your mouth. Doing this strengthens the ability of your 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 hold this position for 10 to 20 seconds of 10 to 20 repetitions. As you continue to improve, increase the amount of time you spend doing each repetition.
  • With your hand, place a flat, soft object between your lips and try to keep the object pressed between your lips without allowing it to fall. Then try to pull the object out while trying to hold it in between your lips. This exercise can also 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. Help from a caregiver is especially helpful if you have movement impairments such as hemiparesis. Try to hold the object between your lips for 10 seconds at a time. Start by doing 5 repetitions and try to increase the duration as well as the number of repetitions as your lips get stronger.
  • Now take the object out and repeat the exercise by pressing your 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 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 as 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 of repetitions and the duration of each repetition.

Dysphagia After Stroke

Dysphagia is a potential complication for people who have had a stroke. Clinical guidelines recommend early screening for dysphagia after stroke to help reduce the chances of dangerous health effects, including pneumonia, malnutrition, dehydration and other complications. Feeding tubes are recommended for people who cannot safely swallow within seven days of experiencing stroke.

A Word From Verywell

Dysphagia is one of the consequences of neurological disease and muscle disease. It can cause a choking risk and increase the risk of infections, such as aspiration pneumonia. If you or a loved one has dysphagia, you need to get professional medical intervention to deal with the problem. Do not try to deal with it on your own.

You may also need to have an adjustment in your diet, as sometimes you may not be able to swallow liquids or eat certain foods. Be sure to follow the recommendations of your speech and swallow therapist so that you can get adequate nutrition with your meals as you adjust your diet.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Winstein CJ, Stein J, et al. Guidelines for adult stroke rehabilitation and recovery: A guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2016 Jun;47(6):e98-e169. doi: 10.1161/STR.0000000000000098.

Additional Reading

By Jose Vega MD, PhD
Jose Vega MD, PhD, is a board-certified neurologist and published researcher specializing in stroke.