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Vocal damage - Need answers!

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mojohand
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Hi,

I am new to this forum but a member to others and strongly belive in the value of information provided by it's members. At 40 yrs. of age I've been in bands since I was 16. A guitarist turned lead singer, my latest band had me singing 4 hr. sets of Modern Rock/Metal covers 90's to present. Lack of proper training and poor technique has resulted in some sort of injury to my voice. Symptoms include hoarsness to the point of vocal loss at times, decreased upper range, lack of power, the inability to push chest voice to head voice, and a dull pain on the right side of my throat just above the inside end of my collar bone. This pain which can be felt during singing, talking and swallowing is similar to something stuck in the throat. It is also sensative to touch in this area. This has been going on for about 2 months now with no improvement. As soon as it starts to feel better, any abnormal usage of my voice causes it to reoccur. Even sneezing or coughing will trigger the symptoms to resurface. As I said previously, the area where I feel the discomfort is right above the tip of my collar bone on the right side. I have seen an ENT, had a thyroid scan, ultrasound, and blood work done to rule out Cancer or thyroid issues. Clear test results have offerd no diagnosis. I currently have an appt. with an Otolarygologist scheduled but it is another 2 months away. He is the only one in my area. I was hoping someone with knowledge of vocal damage or these symptoms might chime in. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

Mojo

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Not any better than the paid professional you intend to see.

4 hours of every song? Probably a few nights a week? Thta's part of the problem, right there/

Reminds of the guy that was here for a while. He taught singing to others in his choir. Practiced on his own for 2 or three hours. Then sang in choir almost every night. And performed in church and local festivals. And actually wondered why his voice was gettting tired and hoarse. Kind of like a runner running 26 miles every day and wondering why his legs are sore.

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No disrespect intended, but I realize the cause and mistakes on my part. Just trying to understand the type of damage and the extent. I only pray I still have the opportunity to correct issues in technique and moderate time spent performing. I pray this is not permanent. Hoping someone can shed light on the injury itself. Through my research all illustrations found of the throat show the vocal folds to be located higher in the neck than the area of my discomfort, leading me to believe it could be something else. Many who claim throat pain as a result of injury fail to pin point the location and provide a detailed decription. This is why I am reaching out for answers. Answers to the type and extent of the injury not the cause. I do appreciate the reply nonetheless.

MOJO

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Joanna Cazden is a vocal health expert and she is usually perusing this section of the forum.

Good luck with your medical appointment in a few months. And he would probably tell you to take a break. And use your voice lightly when you speak. I don't know, I'm not a doctor.

One of our other members had a polyp on his folds and after some patient months of learning how to approach phonation in a way totally different than his New York accent trained him to be, he is polyp-free. So, it doesn't always require surgery but it does require patience and forgoing any singing events that are really going to tax you and tempt you back into old habits.

The hardest thing to do is change your mind.

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Hi mojo -

I'm glad you will be seen by a voice specialist (MD) and hopefully also by a speech therapist with voice knowledge.

In my practice, it is common for vocal strain to go along with neck and throat discomforts in the region. Auxiliary muscles around the voice mechanism try to work extra hard to compensate for the (presumed) vocal damage, then they get overworked too (like, you sprain an ankle & put more weight on the other leg, opposite knee acts up.) Tension/fatigue feelings and irritation inside the throat can be real, false-alarms, or even referred pain from the neck. It is all a complicated system of conscious & unconscious functioning; the sensations are not always accurate; so it is darned tricky to figure out whats causing what!

It is also VERY hard to unlock & unravel the layers of dysfunction so long as you are still trying to sound good during ongoing gigs. Relaxing and shifting technique might make things sound temporarily worse (crutches gone, best muscle patterns not in place yet).

My best advice is to reduce vocal demands where you can, to minimize additional strain/injury. Take really good care of your body otherwise: sleep, nutrition, massage, etc.; get cardio exercise & stretch out the body but back off any heavy weight-training for now (low-weight high-rep routine is OK, see my blog "Weights and measures"). If you do continue to gig, do very short warmup: a few minutes of pitch glides ("siren") on a lip or tongue trill, or through a straw (YouTube "Ingo Titze straw"). Train family and friends not to holler at you from a distance (upstairs/downstairs); not to engage you in long conversations Especially to explain what's wrong with your voice and what you're doing about it -- put the important stuff in writing, otherwise use gesture & smiles to stay connected. Find non-vocal tasks that support your music -- press-kits, instrumental practice, writing lyrics, mixing, whatever -- and find short simple ways to explain it (my voice needs to hibernate this winter).

And let us know what happens with the doctor!

best regards,

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Not much that can be said on a forum... Getting to the doctor and a diagnostic on whats wrong is the number one priority. You should not sing until you got the problem fixed.

And of course, if you plan to continue on using your voice on gigs it would be wise to train and get a very solid technical background to perform without risks of injury. For that, I recommend finding a classical teatcher that works with the italian school. The doctor will probably say the same.

GL man.

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Let me get back on my soapbox about proper rest. I never thought about it until reading a few books by Herbert Burtis.

The demands on today's singers are so much more than singers of old.

1900 - a singer performs at the Met in New York. Then, catches a train to Chicago, Ill. How many days was that? At least a few, during which time he rested, aside from whatever warm-ups.

Today, sing in Thackerville, Oklahoma at the Winstar Casino. Then, travel and try to sleep on a bus to make to the show in Austin, Texas, the very next night. For 3 months at a stretch, punctuated by a day or two at home.

Let alone, Iron Maiden's "Somewhere Back in Time" tour, highlighted in the movie "Flight 666." Dickinson not only performed, he also piloted their leased 757, named "Ed Force One." But even he has some down-time vocally. The set runs no longer than about 1.5 hours. And there might be a few nights between performances. He's not singing a 4 hour show of any number of songs that may or may not be suited for his voice. He is singing only the material written for his voice. And the plane had a co-pilot, so he could still get some shut eye.

Here's the point. Just because we can schedule gigs back to back from one night to the next does not mean the voice can keep up. You have the same voice as the art song singer from 1900, with far less chance to rest than he did and singing for a longer performance duration than he did.

The secrets to singing.

Hydration, rest.

And then the 3 rules according to Burtis. Breathing, breathing, and breathing.

And when you are exhausted, breathing suffers and then you start compensating in your throat.

Get some rest and listen to your doctor.

Please.

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  • 3 months later...

Just a follow up. Three months later. Pain still there and no better. Had scope done at Voice Specialist which showed some vocal scarring in the folds from previous overuse. This was two months ago. Once again the pain is not in the area of the folds or "inside" the throat. It is is the lower neck beneath the collarbone area radiating upwards slightly on the right side only. Quit band and have not been singing much. Speaking is usually worse than singing for whatever reason. Speaking voice fatigues very quickly. I can only attribute this to some sort of tissue injury because it feels like a pulled muscle. I am certain that this was originally caused by overuse but thought it would be healed by now. I just have not had a pulled muscle last for three months. Topical menthol gels offer some temporary relief. Have researched strap muscles of the neck including Sternohyoid and Thyrohyoid as these seem to have an effect on voice. Have been prescibed steroids, anti-imflamatories, and even Valium. No relief yet. I currently work in construction sales so keeping my mouth shut is not really an option. Any info on similar injuries and treatments would be welcomed.

MOJO

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Man, but so what was effectively done?

The doctor found the scarring, and you are complaining of pain during speaking, at least speech therapy is due, something must be done. Find another doctor. Taking medication to relief pain will just mask the problem.

You will have to get rid of it, which can very well be just a case of tension during phonation that appeared after some injury happened (the ones that resulted in scars maybe). If you are hurting yourself just to speak, every single day, the problem will never go away. Of course not. 40 years old is still a young age to have vocal problems, you should stil be at top performing conditions.

Something MUST be done, and by all means, speech therapy before trying any other kind of agressive treatment.

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And while 40 maybe "young" to be having voice problems, being 40 also means that you just don't heal as quickly as you did at 20.

As for being in sales, I don't know what to do for you. But it's not going to go away until you get some rest and therapy.

And find another doctor if necessary. Even if you never sung on a stage, again. You've got to be able to speak in your profession.

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