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Valentina Carlile Osteopata
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Osteopathy and Singing: the fundamental role of the tongue in breathing, chewing, phonation and...

The fundamental role of the tongue in breathing, chewing, phonation and singing

Osteopathy and Singing: the fundamental role of the tongue in breathing, chewing, phonation and...

The tongue plays a fundamental role in various and very important vital functions such as swallowing, breathing, speaking, singing and chewing.

Its action is not limited to influencing the state of the oral cavity, but also influences the entire posture.

Its alteration, whether structural or functional, leads to various systemic disorders.

In the absence of pathological conditions, an altered function of the tongue leads to disorders and pain in the temporomandibular joint, in the nuchal area for the cranio-occipital connection and in the cervical spine. The simplest explanation consists in an alteration of the activity of the geniusglossus during the phases of mandibular closure leading to a peripheral mechanism (linguo-mandibular reflexes or afferent fibers from the extrinsic muscles of the tongue), or to a central organization (a central cortical generator that controls the mandibular articular process) or both.

There is a close functional and embryological relationship between the tongue, occipital area and hyoid bone, which originates from the second branchial arch.

Anatomically, the tongue maintains important relationships with the hyoid and with the hyoid muscles (suprahyoid and subhyoid). The hyoglossal membrane and lingual septum connect the tongue to the hyoid muscles. The action of the suprahyoid muscles helps maintain posture and balance of the head. Electromyography shows electrical activity of the omohyoid and the anterior belly of the digastric during different tongue movements. These muscles intervene in maintaining a correct relationship between the tongue and the head and neck during flexion, extension, and rotation of the neck and cervical spine. The supra- and infrahyoid muscles act together in the movements of the jaw and tongue, during the first phase of swallowing and phonation/singing. These two groups of muscles and the tongue act simultaneously in all movements of the tongue (except retraction). The musculature of the tongue and the suprahyoid and subhyoid muscles influence each other but I remember that the positional variations of the larynx are epiphenomena!

Chewing involves the antero-posterior movements of the tongue and the hyoid bone on a horizontal plane, while the hyoid bone has almost no role in phonation and singing. During breathing, the hyoid moves in a craniocaudal direction, due to the action of the extrinsic muscles of the tongue, dilating the pharyngeal space. Generally speaking, the front part of the tongue is important for activities not related to breathing while the back part is important for breathing and phonation. It should be underlined that all the muscles of the tongue, intrinsic and extrinsic, still work synergistically! Their tone must be balanced otherwise we will find positional alterations of the hyoid and lingual functionality! The tongue can change its state and act as a hydrostat in various functions so it should always be examined!


Valentina Carlile - Osteopath expert in Osteopathy applied to voice and speech disorders since 2002. For information and reservations visit the page Contacts

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