Lung volume changes during relatively fluent speech in stutterers

S. J. Johnston, K. L. Watkin, P. T. Macklem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigated breathing patterns in stutterers during relatively fluent speech and compared these with normal subjects for similar speech tasks. Rib cage and abdominal displacements and esophageal, gastric, and transdiaphragmatic pressures provided indexes of diaphragmatic, rib cage, and abdominal muscle contraction. We found that stutterers spoke either at substantially higher or lower lung volumes than normal subjects, confining their speech to the inspiratory capacity or expiratory reserve volume. During spontaneous speech, stutterers did not cross functional residual capacity (FRC) for most breaths. In addition, stutterers used several different motion pathways from breath to breath. At high lung volumes stutterers used the diaphragm to provide inspiratory braking. At lung volumes below FRC stutterers recruited their abdominals. This contrasted with normal subjects who spoke in the middle part of the vital capacity and who recruited inspiratory and expiratory rib cage muscles above and below FRC, respectively. Breath sizes were log-normally distributed in stutterers compared with a gaussian distribution in normal subjects (P < 0.001). During reading, stutterers tended to cross FRC (P < 0.01), used very similar initiation lung volumes from breath to breath (P < 0.001), and used similar motion pathways to achieve deflation. We conclude that stutterers sustain fluency by speaking at abnormally high or low lung volumes and that this may account for the different muscle patterns observed in stutterers compared with normal subjects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)696-703
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1993


  • chest wall mechanics
  • stuttering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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