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Gerodontology. 2012 Dec;29(4):247-57. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-2358.2012.00638.x. Epub 2012 May 21.

Effects of the head lift exercise on the swallow function: a systematic review.

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Faculty of Health Sciences, University Fernando Pessoa, Porto, Portugal.



Ageing is associated with modifications in upper oesophageal sphincter function that may be deleterious to deglutition. The head lift exercise (Shaker exercise) is a head-raising work out aiming to improve the opening of this segment, and ultimately to reduce aspiration. We aimed to review critically the evidence on the effects of this structured intervention programme and to identify gaps to be filled by future research.


We identified published reports addressing the effect of this exercise in increasing the anteroposterior diameter and cross-sectional area of the deglutitive upper oesophageal sphincter opening or dysphagic symptoms.


Nine methodologically heterogeneous studies were included in the review, and the reported effects of the head lift exercise were an increase in the anterior excursion of the larynx and in the anteroposterior diameter of the upper oesophageal sphincter opening, and the elimination of dysphagic symptoms.


Further studies including control groups and accounting for potential confounders are needed for a sound assessment of the effectiveness of this technique. The data on the functional results are, however, promising for dysphagia interventions.

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