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Functional Anatomy Underlying Pharyngeal Swallowing Mechanics And Swallowing Performance Goals

William G. Pearson, Jacline V. Griffeth, Alexis M. Ennis

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Purpose Rehabilitation of pharyngeal swallowing dysfunction requires a thorough understanding of the functional anatomy underlying the performance goals of pharyngeal swallowing. These goals include the safe and efficient transfer of a bolus through the hypopharynx into the esophagus. Penetration or aspiration of a bolus threatens swallowing safety. Bolus residue indicates swallowing inefficiency. Several primary mechanics, or elements of the swallowing mechanism, underlie these performance goals, with some elements contributing to both goals. These primary mechanics include velopharyngeal port closure, hyoid movement, laryngeal elevation, pharyngeal shortening, tongue base retraction, and pharyngeal constriction. Each element of the swallowing mechanism is under neuromuscular control and is therefore, in principle, a potential target for rehabilitation. Secondary mechanics of pharyngeal swallowing, those movements dependent on primary mechanics, include opening the upper esophageal sphincter and epiglottic inversion. Conclusion Understanding the functional anatomy of pharyngeal swallowing underlying swallowing performance goals will facilitate anatomically informed critical thinking in the rehabilitation of pharyngeal swallowing dysfunction.