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How do you open your throat airway?

Having an open and clear throat airway is important for proper breathing and vocalization. There are several methods that can help open up the throat airway when it feels restricted.

What is the throat airway?

The throat airway consists of the pharynx and the larynx. The pharynx is the tube that starts at the back of the nose and mouth and leads down to the esophagus and larynx. The larynx contains the vocal cords and is located at the top of the trachea (windpipe).

When breathing, air passes through the nose or mouth into the pharynx and then into the larynx before entering the trachea and lungs. The pharynx and larynx contain muscles that control airflow and vocal cord tension.

A restricted or tight throat airway can make breathing and speaking difficult. The throat may feel tight or like there is a lump in it. Contributing factors can include:

  • Allergies
  • Acid reflux
  • Vocal strain
  • Physical tension or misuse of throat muscles
  • Narrowing of the airway due to inflammation

Opening up the throat airway involves relaxing the muscles of the pharynx and larynx while maintaining good posture to keep the airway as open as possible.

Tongue and jaw stretches

The position of the tongue and jaw can constrict the throat airway. Stretches and massages can help relax the tongue and jaw.

  • Stick out your tongue as far as is comfortable and hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
  • Press your tongue up against the roof of your mouth and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
  • Gently pull your tongue forward and massage it by making circles inside your mouth.
  • Open your mouth wide and move your jaw from side to side and front to back.
  • Place your fingertips on the hinges of the jaw and massage in small circles.

Neck and shoulder stretches

The muscles in the neck and shoulders can contribute to throat tension when they are tight. Stretching these areas may provide relief.

  • Slowly roll your head from side to side.
  • Gently tilt your head toward each shoulder.
  • Rotate your head slowly in a circle in both directions.
  • Sit or stand with good posture. Gently tilt your ear toward your shoulder on one side until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
  • Sit or stand with good posture. Look straight ahead and turn your head to gaze over each shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
  • Sit or stand with good posture. Pull your shoulders up toward your ears. Hold for 3 seconds. Relax shoulders down. Repeat 3-5 times.
  • Interlace your fingers and reach your arms overhead with palms facing out. Push arms up and lean slightly from side to side to stretch the sides of your torso. Hold for 30 seconds.

Throat massage

Massaging the muscles of the throat can help release tension in the area:

  • Start below the ears and gently massage the muscles down the sides of the throat with small circular motions of your fingertips.
  • Press your fingers under the jaw and massage down along the muscles toward the collarbones.
  • Place your fingers on the front of the throat and gently stroke downward along the midline.
  • Massage the soft area above the collarbones to release upper chest tension.

Take care not to massage too deeply or vigorously as this may cause discomfort.

Swallowing exercises

Practicing proper swallowing techniques can help retrain throat muscles:

  • Sit upright with your head level and relax your jaw. Slowly swallow while focusing on letting the tongue and jaw drop down and back.
  • Place your fingertips lightly on your throat. Swallow while feeling how the muscles engage and release.
  • Take a small sip of water. Concentrate on actively swallowing the water so it quickly passes through the pharynx.
  • Focus on keeping your tongue, jaw, and throat relaxed as you swallow soft foods like yogurt or applesauce.


Humming helps vibrate and loosen throat tissues:

  • Close your lips and hum a steady tone, like mmmmm. Make the tone continuous without straining.
  • Place your fingers lightly on your throat as you hum. You should feel vibration.
  • Start with short 5-10 second hums. Gradually increase the duration of your hums.
  • Hum while slowly moving your head side to side and up and down.

Yawning and sighing

Natural reactions like yawning and sighing open up the throat:

  • Consciously replicate a deep yawn while relaxing your throat muscles.
  • Take slightly deeper breaths and exhale with a gentle sigh, allowing the throat to open.
  • Notice if your throat feels more open after natural yawns or sighs. See if you can keep that feeling of openness.

Proper posture

Good posture promotes an open airway. Practice posture tips like:

  • Keep your head level with eyes forward, not tilted up or down.
  • Align your ears over your shoulders.
  • Keep your chest lifted without excessive arch in lower back.
  • Relax your shoulders down and slightly back.
  • Lengthen the back of your neck by imagining a string gently pulling the crown of your head up.


Staying hydrated can help thin mucus secretions in the throat and prevent dryness that restricts the airway. Tips for hydration include:

  • Drink at least six to eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid daily.
  • Choose water as your primary beverage.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which have dehydrating effects.
  • Drink warm tea to soothe the throat.
  • Suck on ice chips if your throat feels dry.

Salt water gargle

Gargling with warm salt water can help clear mucus and soothe throat swelling and irritation:

  • Mix 1/2 teaspoon salt in 1 cup warm water.
  • Take a small sip of the solution and gargle for 15-30 seconds before spitting it out.
  • Repeat with the remaining solution 2-3 times.
  • Gargle 2-3 times per day when experiencing throat tightness.

Steam inhalation

Inhaling warm, moist air can loosen mucus secretions and relax throat muscles:

  • Fill a large bowl with hot water. Drape a towel over your head and lean over the bowl. Inhale the steam for 5-10 minutes.
  • Take a hot shower and breathe in the steam.
  • Use a warm mist humidifier or vaporizer to add moisture to the air.

Avoid throat irritants

Preventing throat irritation and swelling can help maintain an open airway:

  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Minimize exposure to air pollution when possible.
  • Avoid yelling or overly strenuous vocal use.
  • Reduce consumption of spicy foods and acidic drinks like citrus juices.
  • Rinse your mouth after eating to clear food debris.

Consider voice therapy

Working with a speech-language pathologist for voice therapy can retrain the throat muscles for proper breathing, swallowing, and vocal techniques.

See your doctor

Consult your physician if throat tightness persists despite these remedies. They can inspect your throat and determine if any medical treatment is required.


A tight throat airway can be uncomfortable and impact breathing and voice. Self-massage, proper swallowing, hydration, steam, and avoiding irritants can provide relief in many cases. For chronic throat tightness, voice therapy or medical management may be needed. Keeping the throat muscles relaxed while maintaining good airway alignment with proper posture is key to opening the airway.