Objectives: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep-related breathing disorder associated with dysfunction of oropharyngeal muscles to maintain upper airway patency during sleep. Oropharyngeal rehabilitation (OPR) was developed to restore, reconstruct, and reeducate oropharyngeal muscle function, but current protocols and effectiveness of OPR have been inconsistent. The purpose of this study was to review (1) indications of OPR, (2) protocols of OPR, and (3) effectiveness of OPR. Methods: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Library and then conducted both meta-synthesis and meta-analysis according to the statement of Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA). Results: A total of eight studies with 203 patients were included. By means of meta-synthesis, the patients with middle age, BMI < 40 kg/m2, mild-to-moderate OSA, and non-severe upper airway anatomical abnormality were found to benefit from OPR. The protocol of OPR was summarized to be an anatomically based, multilevel approach, including the retropalatal, retroglossal, hypopharyngeal, TMJ, and facial levels. By using meta-analysis, overall outcomes were presented as apnea hypopnea index (AHI) with significant improvement from 25.2 ± 7.8/h to 16.1 ± 6.6/h (mean difference [MD] – 9.8 [95% CI − 11.0 to − 8.6], p < 0.0001); the lowest oxygen saturation (LSAT) improved from 80.2 ± 4.7 to 83.8 ± 2.9% (MD 3.0% [95% CI 2.0 to 4.0], p < 0.0001); Epworth sleepiness scale (ESS) improved from 11.8 ± 1.9 to 6.3 ± 1.6 (MD − 5.9 [95% CI − 7.5 to − 4.2], p < 0.001), neck circumference (NC) from 35.2 ± 1.1 to 34.7 ± 0.9 cm (MD − 0.6 [95% CI − 0.9 to − 0.2], p = 0.002), BMI from 24.8 ± 3.7 to 24.8 ± 4.1 kg/m2 (MD − 0.0; 95% CI − 0.5 to 0.5, p = 0.95). All outcomes except BMI demonstrated significant improvement from OPR. Conclusions: Meta-analysis of previous OPR reports shows an improvement in AHI of 39%, compared with the usual surgical definition of success at 50%. Only mild and moderate cases of OSA were referred for OPR in the prior studies. In order to improve outcomes with OPR, a comprehensive approach to rehabilitation should be emphasized.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes