What is the Genioglossus?

C. Mitchell

The genioglossus is a muscle in the human jaw that both keeps the airway open and enables the tongue to stick out and retract. It extends from the back of the lower jaw to the tongue in a fan shape that spans the width of the palate. Most of the time, the muscle is contracted and engaged, even when asleep. Relaxation of the muscle can lead to airway obstruction, which can cause snoring and sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. A surgical procedure known as “genioglossus advancement” can correct most of the sleeping disorders connected to the muscle.

The genioglossus human jaw muscle enables the tongue to stick out and retract.
The genioglossus human jaw muscle enables the tongue to stick out and retract.

The genioglossus falls within the large category of muscles of the head and neck, but it is properly considered a muscle of the tongue specifically. It is located in the lower mandible of the jaw, near the back of the chin. It is responsible for tongue movement, particularly the ability to stick out the tongue. It is not, however, considered a muscle of facial expression. It does not control any nerves or muscle movements outside of the tongue.

Relaxation of the genioglossus can lead to snoring due to an obstructed airway.
Relaxation of the genioglossus can lead to snoring due to an obstructed airway.

One of the most important functions of the genioglossus is the maintenance of an open airway. The muscle does not itself control the airway — both the upper and lower airways function with the aid of their own set of muscles — but it plays a supporting role in airway maintenance. If the genioglossus is not functioning properly, it can allow the tongue to move into the path of the airway, causing blockage or obstruction.

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Snoring is the most common sign of a weakened genioglossus. Snoring is usually caused by the tongue slipping back into the throat, which would not happen if the muscle was properly constricted. A weakened genioglossus is not in and of itself problematic, and snoring is not always a condition warranting treatment. If the muscle is very weak, however, or if it is shorter or positioned farther back in the jaw than normal, there can be serious consequences, and medical attention is often required.

A weakened genioglossus is often to blame for sleep apnea, a sleep disorder marked by uneven breathing and restlessness owing to inconsistent levels oxygen reaching the brain. Surgery on the genioglossus can, in many cases, relieve or cure sleep apnea. A surgeon can bring the muscle forward through what is known as a genioglossus advancement procedure. This will strengthen the muscle’s pressure on the tongue, and can help keep the airway open and breathing consistent during sleep.

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Discussion Comments


@SarahSon - I was desperate to get some help for my sleep apnea. My doctor did recommend I have surgery on my genioglossus.

This was a simple procedure. I did stay in the hospital overnight, and had about a 2 week recovery time.

I did have some trouble swallowing for about a week after the surgery, but other than that, the pain was not bad at all.

This must have been the major cause for my sleep apnea syndrome because I have been a different person since fully recovering from the surgery.

Because there are different reasons someone struggles with sleep apnea, what works for some people might not be the best solution for others. You just need to find what works best for you.

Once you get it treated properly, you should feel like you have a new lease on life.


@SarahSon - I have not had surgery for my sleep apnea problem, but certainly can attest to how much better I feel once I began using a CPAP machine at night.

I know there are many different causes of sleep apnea, and part of mine was being overweight. Between losing some much needed weight, and getting more oxygen throughout the night, I feel like a different person.

When I went for my sleep study they never said anything about having any kind of surgery. I had enough episodes during the testing that they thought the sleep machine would be the best way to go.

It had been a long time since I had such good sleep and felt so rested throughout the day. I would recommend this as a good place to start.


I know of several people who use a machine at night because they have obstructive sleep apnea. Everyone I know of that uses this has a much better quality of life.

I have been trying to get my husband to go for a sleep study. His snoring is getting worse, and neither one of us ever get a good nights sleep because of it.

He has tried several different gadgets to see if any thing would help, including a stop snoring pillow, but nothing has worked.

He moves around so much at night that he doesn't see how he would be able to sleep very well connected to a machine.

I think using a machine like this would be better than going through surgery, but first he needs to get tested.

Has anybody had surgery on their genioglossus with good results?

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