Studies were done on 8 normal subjects with synchronized videofluoroscopy and manometry to facilitate a biomechanical analysis of upper esophageal sphincter opening and volume-dependent modulation during swallowing. Movements of the hyoid and larynx, dimensions of sphincter opening, and intraluminal sphincter pressure were determined at 1 30th-s intervals during swallows of 1, 5, 10, and 20 ml of liquid barium. Our analysis subdivided upper esophageal sphincter activity during swallowing into five phases: (a) relaxation, (b) opening, (c) distention, (d) collapse, and (e) closure. Sphincter relaxation occurred during laryngeal elevation and preceded opening by a mean period of 0.1 s. Opening occurred as the sphincter was pulled apart via muscular attachments to the hyoid such that the hyoid coordinates at which sphincter opening and closing occurred were constant among bolus volumes. Sphincter distention after opening was modulated by intrabolus pressures rather than graded hyoid movement. The generation of intrabolus pressure coincided with the posterior thrust of the tongue that culminated in pharyngeal wall contact and the initiation of pharyngeal peristalsis. Larger volume swallows were associated with greater intrabolus pressure and increased bolus head velocity. The duration of sphincter opening increased in conjunction with a prolongation of the anterior-superior excursion of the hyoid and a delay in the onset of pharyngeal peristalsis (the event that determined the timing of sphincter closure). We conclude that transsphincteric transport of increasing swallow bolus volumes is accomplished by modulating sphincter diameter, opening interval, and flow rate (reflected by bolus head velocity). Furthermore, upper esophageal sphincter opening is an active mechanical event rather than simply a consequence of cricopharyngeal relaxation.
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