“Reverse Swallowing” or “Tongue Thrust” and its role in chronic pain

One of the main reasons that I wanted to write this blog was to inform more people of this extremely obscure source of pain. Had I not discovered this by absolute random chance I would still be in daily agony. Discovering that I had a “Reverse Swallowing Pattern” or “Tongue Thrust” problem was what has finally allowed me to break free from the pain that I was experiencing constantly.

The Nature of My Pain
I had a laundry list of different chronic pain problems, even after discovering a host of other medical issues and seeing four different therapists over the course of two years. No matter how hard I tried I was unable to beat the pain I was experiencing. I was a competitive swimmer from the age of 12 onward, swimming all the strokes in both club and school settings. I had/have arthritis in both shoulder joints, I was experiencing extreme pain behind the shoulder blade, and extreme pain in the joint–this pain paled in comparison to the problems I was having in my jaw and cervical spine.

The cervical spine is the portion of the spine that connects neck to the head. I was experiencing excruciating tightness in the sub occipital muscles. These muscles can be found about an inch below the bump on the back of your head. This pain was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, and it was made worse by certain activities and dietary triggers, which I’ll get into in later posts. First I want to describe a basic test for tongue thrust so that you’ll be able to find out if you have an issue with it.

The Test
Get a glass of water and take a sip of it into your mouth, don’t swallow yet. Pay attention to the position of your tongue in your mouth and tune in to the sensation of your throat and jaw. Swallow the water.

Its a seemingly simple process that I could never have imagined would have any impact on my health. How wrong I was. If you say yes to any of the following you’re in for a wild fucking ride. The months after making this discovery were some of the strangest and most rewarding ones of my life.

  • During your swallow was your tongue on the bottom of your mouth?
  • Did your tongue push forward during the swallow, perhaps past your teeth?
  • Take another sip of water. Try swallowing with your tongue pressed against the roof of your mouth. Did this seem difficult or even impossible?
  • Have your teeth recently moved inexplicably despite past dental work?
  • When you aren’t eating or talking is your tongue “resting” low in your mouth? Perhaps down behind your bottom teeth?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions it is highly likely that you have a dysfunctional swallowing pattern. Discovering this about myself was the most critical part of my recovery. Since I’ve received treatment I’ve gone to being almost literally bedridden to rock climbing and doing handstands on a weekly basis.

Here is another website that explains what Tongue Thrust is in greater detail

What to do now

You’re going to need to find a Myofunctional Therapist in your area. These specialists will help you train your body to swallow food and drink in the correct way. A way that won’t have severe detriment to your physical well being.

You can also take a look at the videos here and here. They’re pretty old, and the activities are going to seem extremely bizarre, but they are crucial to overcoming dysfunctional swallowing patterns. Also, throughout your day you will want to keep your tongue up against the roof of your mouth.


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