This form of therapy focuses on evaluation and intervention to improve communication skills — speech, voice, language and swallowing difficulties.

Professionals in this discipline are known as speech and language pathologists (SLP) and are trained in the techniques, strategies and interventions designed to improve or correct disorders of speech, language and swallowing.

At Keck Medicine of USC, we provide inpatient and outpatient speech/language therapy by professionals who are certified in this specialty. This means that they not only are licensed SLPs, but they have also met rigorous national standards of education, experience and clinical expertise in this specialty. In addition, our therapists are certified in VitalStim®, the only neuromuscular electrical stimulation that is cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat dysphagia.

Who Benefits from Speech/Language Therapy

Speech/language therapy can benefit patients with a wide range of speech, voice and swallowing disorders, including:

  • People who have had a stroke, aneurysm, Parkinson’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) or a brain tumor, for example, may experience neurological impairment that affects their ability to speak or understand language. Treatment can help them communicate as clearly and effectively as possible.
  • Anyone can develop voice problems; for people who rely on their voice for their livelihood — actors, singers, teachers, for example — this can be particularly troublesome. Therapy can help resolve the problem and/or prevent it from getting worse.
  • For people with swallowing disorders, either as a result of injury or illness, treatment can enable them to eat and drink as normally as possible.

Conditions treated at Keck Medicine of USC include:

  • Aphasia (difficulty understanding language or verbally communicating)
  • Voice disorders such as chorditis (inflammation of the vocal cords), vocal cord nodules or cysts, Reinke’s Edema (a swelling of the vocal cords), spasmodic dysphonia (involuntary movements of the muscles of the larynx), vocal fatigue, voice disorders secondary to reflux
  • Dysphagia (trouble swallowing, which can result in aspiration — inhaling fluid into the lungs — or choking)
  • LaryngoPharyngeal Reflux (LPR) (when stomach contents reflux into the throat causing tissue injury and symptoms like hoarseness, throat clearing, and increased phlegm and cough)

Comprehensive Diagnostic & Treatment Resources

Inpatient speech/language therapy often is geared toward helping prevent aspiration in acutely ill patients who have just had surgery and may be on a ventilator and/or have had a tracheotomy (a hole cut into the windpipe to help breathing). Early intervention with stroke patients also is important to reduce frustration if the ability to communicate is impaired; we can help educate family members and teach alternative ways of communicating.

Outpatient therapy is carefully tailored to the individual patient’s conditions, needs and goals. Among the state-of-the-art treatment resources we offer are:

  • VitalStim® Therapy is the first and only neuromuscular electrical stimulation treatment cleared by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for treating dysphagia.
  • Visi-Pitch™ is an acclaimed speech therapy tool that offers a variety of powerful methods to assess and treat voice disorders.
  • Therapeutic exercises and training tailored to the individual patient’s specific problem. For voice disorders, this may involve training in breathing, use of the voice and/or speaking habits. For swallowing disorders, exercises are designed to target the specific muscles causing the problem. Aphasia therapy strives to improve an individual’s ability to communicate by helping the person to use remaining abilities, to restore language abilities as much as possible, to compensate for language problems and to learn other methods of communicating.

Family involvement is integral to a successful speech/language therapy program. Because a patient’s communication problems, voice or swallowing disorder can affect family and friends, we emphasize their involvement during the rehabilitation process. Members of the clinical team also will teach family members how to help with care after discharge, or during outpatient therapy.

Common Terms Used in Speech/Language Therapy

  • Aphasia – Loss of the ability to speak or understand speech.
  • Aspirate – To inhale fluid into the lungs.
  • Bolus – A soft mass of chewed food.
  • Bolus transport – The movement of food from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach.
  • Chorditis – Inflammation of vocal cords (vocal folds), usually as a result of voice abuse.
  • Dysphagia – Difficulty in swallowing.
  • Esophagus – The muscular tube that passes food from the throat to the stomach.
  • Larynx – The medical term for the voice box, the organ in the throat that produces voice and also prevents food from entering the airway.
  • Pharynx – The part of the digestive tract that connects the mouth with the esophagus.
  • Trachea – The airway that leads from the larynx to the lungs (also called the windpipe).
  • Vocal cords – Also known as vocal folds, they are the two folds of tissue located in the larynx that vibrate when air passes over them, producing the sounds associated with talking and singing.
  • Vocal hygiene – Strategies designed to decrease stress on vocal cords and promote good vocal hygiene
  • Vocal tract – The system made up of the larynx, pharynx and mouth cavity that shapes and alters airflow and sound vibration into distinctive speech sounds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When will I be able to eat normally again?
A: There’s no single, simple answer to this question because each person is unique and there are so many variables that can affect the length of time it takes to recover from a swallowing disorder. Our certified specialists will work closely with you to establish realistic expectations, timeframes and goals, and communicate openly and honestly about your progress and prognosis.

Q: Can I really regain the ability to speak after a stroke?
A: There is growing scientific evidence that the brain can create new neuropathways to compensate for those damaged by a stroke or other neurological injury. That’s why it is so important to begin speech/language therapy as soon as possible after a stroke. It’s also important to prevent muscle atrophy — if you don’t use the muscles of your mouth, tongue and throat, they can waste away