What is swallowing therapy?


problems swallowing liquids

Many of our patients comment that they’d never heard of “swallowing therapy” before their doctor recommended it.  Therapy for swallowing is actually very common as it is estimated that over 15 million people have dysphagia (difficulty swallowing).


One way to think of swallowing therapy is like physical therapy for the muscles in the throat.   The muscles in the mouth and throat are the same type of muscles as those in the arms and legs, and they can become weak due to variety of medical conditions.

Common Causes of Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing):

  • Strokes or brain tumors
  • Traumatic head or spinal cord injuries
  • Parkinson’s Disease and other movement disorders
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Surgery involving an incision on the throat
  • Deconditioning due to age
  • Weakness following an illness

Fortunately difficulty swallowing can often be treated with exercise to improve the functioning of the muscles in the throat and mouth.   At the Carter Swallowing Center, swallowing treatment programs are custom designed for each patient based on what that person needs to get better as well as what will fit their schedule and lifestyle.

Options for swallowing therapy may include any of the following:

  • Suggestions to use during meals to make eating and drinking safer and easier
  • Swallowing exercise at our clinic 1-3 times per week using advanced equipment which can speed up recovery. An exercise program typically lasts 4-6 weeks, depending on the severity of the problem.
  • Daily home exercises that are expertly selected for each patient and can be completed independently. This will include thorough instruction on the program and follow-up 1-2 times to modify and advance the program as needed.

Family members are welcome to attend the therapy sessions.

I had extreme choking following neck surgery and was discouraged with lack of progress and being told it would get better with time–6 months later I still had little change.  I was fortunate to be referred to Carter Swallowing Clinic where I had a thorough evaluation and identification of my problem.

After 4 weeks of therapy and some homework, I can now enjoy eating almost all foods and feel I can eat in public again!  Jenifer Carter was delightful to work with and extremely professional and patient.  Being a nurse in a related field, I know many therapy centers and programs and this is far and above the most individualized, advanced therapy available.

– Nancy M, RN



A swallowing evaluation consists of 2 parts:  a clinical swallowing evaluation in our clinic and a Modified Barium Swallow study (MBS) in radiology immediately following your examination.  By combining these 2 assessments, Jen can accurately identify the specific cause of your swallowing difficulty to effectively determine the course of treatment needed for your recovery.

During the clinical swallowing evaluation, your speech pathologist, Jen Carter, will have you describe your swallowing problems and will assess the strength and movement of your swallowing muscles.

Immediately following the assessment in our clinic, Jen will complete the evaluation with a Modified Barium Swallow study in the Swedish Medical Center radiology department, which is 3 blocks from the Carter Swallowing Center.

During the MBS, the radiologist takes moving x-ray images of the mouth and throat while you swallow food and liquid mixed with barium.  The MBS allows us to see specifically what is happening to the food/drink inside your mouth and throat when you swallow and also let us see which muscles are not properly functioning so that we can plan the appropriate swallowing treatment.   

Related Blog Posts:

Swallowing Therapy…There’s An App For That!

Dysphagia documentary now on YouTube

The Medicare Therapy Cap…YOU can make a difference!

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