Department of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois.
The deglutitive pharyngeal contraction was analyzed using simultaneous videofluoroscopic and manometric studies of eight volunteers. Anterior, posterior, and longitudinal movements of the pharyngeal surfaces, relative to the cervical vertebrae, were measured during swallows of 5 and 10 mL of liquid barium. Profound pharyngeal shortening during bolus transit through the pharynx eliminated access to the larynx and elevated the upper esophageal sphincter to within 1.5 cm of the retrolingual pharynx. Bolus head movement through the pharynx preceded the propagated pharyngeal contraction and registered manometrically as a slight intrabolus pressure before the major pressure complex. Contraction in the horizontal plane began after bolus head transit and culminated with stripping of the bolus tail through the pharynx. Prolonged upper sphincter opening with the larger-volume swallows resulted from a delayed onset rather than altered propagation of the horizontal pharyngeal contraction. It is concluded that the propagated pharyngeal contraction facilitates pharyngeal clearance but has a minimal role in the process of bolus propulsion during swallowing. The propagated contraction works in concert with profound pharyngeal shortening to minimize hypopharyngeal residue after a swallow.