Trouble swallowing post surgery

Anyone have trouble swallowing after surgery? It feels like maybe my swallowing muscles are paralyzed? In the recovery rm they said this would go away “in several hours” but it’s been 7 and I still can’t take a sip of water without choking, then a build phegm and choke on that. That cough is painful in the throat - feels like acid.


I’m sorry to hear you’re experiencing this, its sounds very unpleasant to deal with.

Effect of tongue‐strengthening exercises on tongue strength and swallowing‐related parameters in chronic radiation‐associated dysphagia - Van den Steen - 2020 - Head & Neck - Wiley Online Library

Tongue strength exercises in patients with RAD results in increased strength and swallowing function.
I know this is about radiation exposure but it shouldn’t matter, as whatever it is that’s caused dysphagia still produces the same issue.

The effectiveness of tongue strengthening exercise in increasing tongue strength among older people with dysphagia: A systematic review - ScienceDirect

I can’t seem to find the exact paper right now, but the protocol I follow is maximal strength of placing your tongue into the roof of your palate for 10 seconds and then 10 seconds rest, doing that 5x. Then 30 seconds rest and then doing one more set.

I really hope you’re able to get some improvement soon. Any more questions, feel free to ask.


So sorry that you’re having this trouble after surgery- it’s not common straight away, but it could be made worse by swelling. If you can ice your neck & try sucking on ice cubes that might help, & maybe ask your doctor if steroids might help?
I hope that it is swelling & not aggravated nerves, will pray that it gets better very quickly, & sending you a hug :hugs: :pray:

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Thanks. I have been icing, and apparently the doc prescribed steroids and we didn’t know - we thought all Rxes were in the bad we left with.

Next day is better! Getting downa little mushy food.


So glad you’ve seen some improvement! As Jules noted, not being able to swallow well for a few days to a couple of weeks is not an unknown side effect of this surgery.

Prednisone will help a lot. It sounds like your issue may be a function of inflammation with a little nerve injury mixed in. The glossopharyngeal nerve is the main nerve that helps us swallow. It is very often irritated by ES surgery but does recover.

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Yes, Hepworth said the 9th cranial nerve was wrapped around the styloid he removed, so I assume it’s very confused.

I can see the lack of coordination when I open my mouth, look in the mirror and say “ahhh.” One side responds differently from the other. So I assume there’s some nerve invovlement.

The irony is I stocked my home with yummy foods for my convalescence.

I had the exact same problem in my first styloidectomy but ended up w/ half my tongue paralyzed. That made talking, chewing food & swallowing a bit challenging. Speaking clearly & moving food around in my mouth to properly chew it were the two worst problems for me.

I hope the yummy food you bought will keep till you can swallow better. I am the queen of freezing foods that I don’t think will keep well before I eat them (this includes nuts & chocolate). In the case of veggies (except lettuce), I precook them & freeze them. I have been known to put greens in the blender w/ some water to make the base for green smoothies then freeze the blended mix.

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Isaiah about how long did it take to regain full function? I’m picturing weeks of therapy similar to a stroke victim. And starting to freak out a little about my singing profession.

I can see when I open my mouth, look in the mirror and say “ahhh” that the right and left sides are not coordinated, so it seems like a nerve issue, maybe not plain old inflammation.

And am I understanding you had a 2nd styloidectomy? Opposite side? And didn’t have the same issue?

I’m glad you got the steroids and are doing better. They make a world of difference. I’m 8 days post op from a bilateral styloidectomy and I have temporary paralysis of my mouth. It’s getting better very slowly. My mouth isn’t even either when I open it and my bottom lip curves in on the bottom when I smile. When I talk my entire mouth sort of goes to the left. Today is a tiny bit better than yesterday. Of what I’ve read in past posts it takes close to 2 months to start getting back to normal. It’s definitely a long recovery. I had difficulty chewing the first week and swallowing was bothersome the first day. When I talk there’s a bit of saliva that builds up. I tend to laugh at myself rather than get frustrated :slight_smile:


Thanks! I just made a mango smoothie, and it’s going down pretty well. And butternut squash soup yesterday. So it’s getting better. Hope you are, too!


I couldn’t swallow at all after my first styloidectomy, not even my own saliva. I was supposed to just have an overnight stay, but I ended up being in the hospital for a week. The doctor said it was tighter in there than he had expected from the imaging and they had to tug on a bundle of nerves. After a few days they ended up giving me a feeding tube (took FOUR tries to get it in right). I had to use suction to remove my saliva. Toward the end of the week, I started being able to start eating jello or pudding, and then Mac and cheese (one piece of elbow macaroni at a time, and about 5 minutes per piece to get it down). It was months before I was able to eat normally again. Fortunately there were no complications after my second surgery.


Thanks - gives me some idea what to expect. I’m four days in and can have mushy food, with difficulty. I expect it will improve in its own time!


That was a long time, glad your second surgery was easier!

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I am glad others have responded - it helps to hear from those who experienced the same surgery and you can compare timelines for recovery.

I am 2.5 months since my bilateral styloidectomy and I have seen relief from those issues you described - throat discomfort and some of my paralysis. I feel much more capable of working out (walking, light weights, yoga, kicking a soccer ball around with my kids) and can eat just about anything.

I still have paralysis in the jaw area, partial ear, some pain when touching behind my ears, and my neck along the scar lines becomes tight occasionally, making it difficult to turn. First bite remains - normally 3-4 times a day.

Am I thankful I proceeded with the surgery?


75 days or so post op and I am extremely satisfied with the changes and relief I experienced when comparing my condition prior.

Hang in there!!! Statistically, you should start following many of the trends others do over the next few weeks with feeling a positive difference.


Thanks. I was in the middle of recording an album when surgery happened, so I’m a little impatient. Also hungry.

I’m curious what symptom relief you all did get?

Hi @nnaeve,

I am so sorry your album is being delayed! I hope there isn’t a hard deadline for finishing it. Some of our members have had good tongue & lip recovery w/in a couple of months of surgery. For others it has taken longer.

My tongue took about 9 mos. to be mostly recovered, but I could speak pretty clearly by 6 mos post op. My right styloidectomy was first & the glossopharygeal nerve was wrapped around my styloid. Moving it so the styloid could be shortened is what irritated it. Post op, when I’d stick my tongue out of my mouth, it would curve sharply to the right because the right side’s muscles weren’t working. The enduring problem I had was choking when I had a sip of liquid. I got on a waitlist for swallow therapy & when they finally called, I was told I needed a referral from my PCP. I went in to see him, & he refused to give me the referral. Told me I could swallow just fine. This was all before the wonderful Self-Advocacy info was added to our forum, so I accepted the verdict & never went for PT. In retrospect, I needed to fight for myself & let the doc know I was not swallowing ok. I think having the therapy would have expedited my tongue & swallowing recovery. If you’re considering going that route, I’d contact the swallow therapy ofc now to see if there is a waitlist & to find out if you need a referral so you can get on that. The swallowing issue is something that time will take care of, but I totally understand how frustrating it is!

I’m in Susie’s camp where my first surgery had all the post op “fun”. My second styloidectomy (yes, I had bilateral ES) was textbook. I came home from the surgery center & was able to eat a normal meal. First time around, my husband kindly made me smoothies from whatever food he cooked - just put all the meal ingredients into the blender, added some almond milk or broth, blended it all together & voíla! dinner or lunch or breakfast (actually, I’d made a bunch of green smoothies w/ protein powder prior to surgery for breakfast). Some of those dinner smoothies looked pretty awful, but they tasted great! I had my first surgery right before Thanksgiving in 2014. My TG dinner looked like baby food. :rofl:


I cannot believe your PCP wouldn’t refer! Ugh! Thanks so much for the words of encouragement.


I just wanted to thank everybody for their comments here, and report my issues with swallowing and speaking are about 90& resolved 7 weeks post surgery.

Significantly, Dr. Hepworth did about 5 seconds of massage to the right of my larynx about 6 weeks post surgery, and that seemed to release something which really helped.

That said, I did almost choke on a pill a few days after that, so that was a good reminder to not get too cocky!

Very importantly, my singing voice is mostly back - I’ve started sending tracks to my producer again. I’m still missing a few notes at the top of my range, and still sound a bit nasal (perhaps this is more related to the sinus part of the surgery, and my right tonsil is still inflamed) but my voice is largely functional for the music I sing now.

I think I’d still be on the bench if I were still singing opera.


That is AMAZING news, @nnaeve! I’m really glad you can sing again. Your voice is your instrument & it would be so sad if you were “benched” for good. Glad you aren’t singing opera!!


Thanks to you and everyone who gave me patience and hope!

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