Crazy Cranial Nerves and Swallowing

By: Karen Sheffler

June 3, 2014

Cranial Nerves and Swallowing / Voice

by Karen Sheffler, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S of

The cranial nerves look so beautiful exiting the brainstem in these pictures! Why do they have to be so hard to memorize? It is so important for Speech-Language Pathologists to understand the sensory and motor aspects of cranial nerves and swallowing, speech and voice function. The speech-language pathologist can contribute to the medical team’s differential diagnosis when a thorough sensory and motor cranial nerve examination provides critical findings.

Inferior surface of brain where cranial nerves exit brainstem

Inferior surface of brainstem with cranial nerves I through XII

Inferior view of cranial nerves exiting brainstem in cadaver.

Inferior view of brainstem and cranial nerves

Do you need help studying the cranial nerves at school? Do you need a chart that you can keep on your clipboard at work?

CLICK HERE for a handy chart: Cranial Nerves with a Focus on Swallowing and Voice.

The Cranial Nerve chart is packed with the following information:

  1. Cranial nerve name and number,
  2. Nuclei and location in brainstem,
  3. Associated muscles,
  4. Sensory and/or Motor functions,
  5. How to test the cranial nerve, and
  6. Potential signs and symptoms if there is damage to the nerve.

Here are just a few of the complex pathways of the cranial nerves:

The vagus nerve (recurrent laryngeal nerve) on the left wanders around the aorta before innervating vocal cord on left

See the wandering vagus, especially the left side where the Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve (RLN) branch loops around aorta.

Vagus nerve, cranial nerve number 10, travels around the aorta before innervating the true vocal cord on the left side. This is the recurrent laryngeal nerve branch.

The lengthy traveling of the “wanderer” (Vagus nerve, CN X)

Cranial nerves and Swallowing: Route of facial nerve

Pathways from cortex to contralateral nuclei in pons. The facial nerve (CN VII) then travels through internal acoustic meatus, through the facial canal, and through the stylomastoid foramen before branching off (simplified).

Love, R.J & Webb, W.G. (1996). Neurology for the speech-language pathologist (3rd ed.). Boston: Butterworth-

Heinemann. Groher, M.E. (1992). Dysphagia: Diagnosis and management (2nd ed.). Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Fitzgerald, M.J.T. (1992). Neuroanatomy: Basic and clinical. London: Bailliere Tindall.