by Katrina M. Jensen, Fort Worth, Texas, USA


Any foreign material passing into the airway below the level of the vocal cords

Cricopharyngeal opening

This is the space allowed during the initial stage of the esophageal phase of swallowing. The cricopharyngeus remains closed until the esophageal phase begins. The extent of opening determines how well food material will pass into the esophagus.


A sphincter muscle at the top of the esophagus which ordinarily serves as a sphincter to keep the top of the esophagus closed except when the person is swallowing, vomiting, or belching


The first portion of the small intestine, starting at the lower end of the stomach and extending to the jejunum.


Difficulty passing food and/or liquid from the mouth to the stomach.

Esophageal Phase

The point during the swallow when the food material enters the esophagus and continues until the material is propelled into the stomach. [3]


“Food pipe” A narrow, flexible tube extending from the base of the pharynx and connects the stomach to the throat. It is muscular in nature and moves in a peristaltic manner, squeezing around in a moving wave from the top downward toward the stomach.

Hyoid Bone

A horseshoe-shaped bone situated in the anterior midline of the neck between the chin and the thyroid cartilage. At rest, it lies at the level of the base of the mandible in the front and the third cervical vertebra behind.

Inferior Pharyngeal Constrictors

The lowest of the pharyngeal constrictors, located below the middle pharyngeal constrictor. It is the thinnest of the pharyngeal constrictors.

Middle Pharyngeal Constrictors

A fan-shaped muscle located between the superior and inferior pharyngeal constrictors. It is also the smallest of the pharyngeal constrictors.


Painful swallowing

Oral Phase

The phase of swallowing which begins when food or liquid is accepted into the mouth and ends with the food/liquid material being transported to the throat for swallowing. his phase is voluntary and involves important cranial nerves: V (trigeminal), VII (facial) and XII (hypoglossal). [3]


This is part of the throat that lies behind the mouth extending from the uvula to the level of the hyoid bone.


successive waves of involuntary contraction passing along the walls of a hollow muscular structure. In the case of swallowing, this happens in a top-down or superior to inferior motion.

Pharyngeal Constrictors

Muscles that serve to contract the throat. They are divided into superior, middle and inferior constrictors. 

Pharyngeal Phase

This is the phase of swallowing that begins once the food/liquid material leaves the mouth and ends when the food enters the esophagus. This phase is most impact by a laryngectomy surgery. When the pharyngeal phase begins, other activities such as chewing, breathing and coughing are suppressed. [3]

Posterior Pharyngeal Wall

 The back wall of the throat, inclusive the the superior, middle and inferior pharyngeal constrictors. This portion of the pharynx is situated anterior to, or in front of, the cervical vertebrae of the neck.

Superior Pharyngeal Constrictors

The uppermost of the pharyngeal constrictors, also the thinnest. It begins at the top of the oropharynx and extends downward to just below the mandible or lower jawbone. It is responsible for sealing against the soft palate during swallowing to ensure no food material enters the nasal passages. It also begins the downward movement of food material toward the lower portions of the throat.

Tongue Base

The portion of the tongue that begins at the opening of the oropharync and extends downward toward the larynx. This portion of the tongue is impacted by reconstruction of the pharynx (throat) during a laryngectomy surgery.


A large tube, commonly referred to as the “wind pipe” that extends from the base of the larynx to the bronchi. Its structure is largely comprised of cartilaginous rings that support its tubular shape and maintain an open tube through which breathing occurs.

Upper Esophageal Sphincter

The upper esophageal sphincter is a muscular valve that is located at the upper portion of the esophagus. Used synonymously with cricopharyngeus and/or cricopharyngeal sphincter


A pocket in the upper portion of the pharynx, created by the base of tongue and the epiglottis


Dry mouth due to a lack of saliva. This is common in head and neck cancer patients who have received radiation treatment as saliva glands are commonly damaged by the radiation.


1. Sleisenger MH, Feldman M, Friedman LM. (2002). Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal & Liver Disease, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company. Chapter 6, p. 63.

2. Martino R, Foley N, Bhogal S, Diamant N, Speechley M, Teasell R (2005). Dysphagia after stroke: incidences diagnosis and potential for pulmonary complications, Stroke 36 (12): 2756–63.

3. Logemann, Jeri A. (1998). Evaluation and treatment of swallowing disorders. Austin, Tex: Pro-Ed.

4. Elaine N. Marieb and Katja Hoehn, Human Anatomy and Physiology, Seventh Edition


5. SUNY Labs 23:03-0101"Anterior Triangle of the Neck: The Muscular Triangle"


6. Mosby's Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. 2009, Elsevier.

7. The American Heritage Medical Dictionary Copyright 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company.