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Vocal Tension Issues (please help!)

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Songbird
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Forgive me if this topic is in the wrong section, but I'm in some desperate need of help. Just a warning that this may be a long post, as I want to explain my situation with as many details as possible..hopefully, somebody can give me some advice. Thanks in advance.

I'm in my early 20s and have been singing all my life. By that, I mean I've always loved to sing, sang in elementary and middle school choir, and always dreamed of being a professional singer. My range was always rather limited, and after a few hours of intense singing I would occasionally experience some minor discomfort; nothing that bad, and it would always go away by the next morning. Exactly 3 years ago, I really decided to give this singing thing a chance and signed up for singing lessons. To be honest, looking back, I think the lessons did me more harm than good, because the teachers I had didn't teach me much. I went through 3 teachers before landing with my current vocal coach. So that's a little background on my experience with singing and lessons.

The main reason I am here is because in May of 2010, I randomly started experiencing a kind of soreness in my throat while speaking and/or singing. It is a bit hard to explain. It's not the same kind of feeling as when you're literally sick with a sore throat...it's definitely similar. It's not a sharp pain...it feels more like it's aching...a slight pulling sensation...just overall an unpleasant sensation. I remember that day so vividly in my mind, as it has changed so many things in my life ever since it happened. I simply woke up that day and thought.."this is a weird sensation..my throat hurts when I talk..but it will probably go away the next day." Boy, was I wrong. It did not go away...it probably got worse and persisted. Some days would be worse than others...it's really hard to pinpoint how often I would get that sensation, but it was enough to send me to the family doctor. He checked what he could and didn't find any bumps or anything else suspicious on my neck. Because I actually insisted, I got referred to an ENT specialist in August of 2010. I was sure that after this visit, I could get on with training my singing voice and going back to life without constant pain in my throat. Well, I had a camera stuck down my throat, and the doctor did not see any growths, or anything else, really, that needed immediate attention. I cannot remember everything he said, but I do recall that he observed something via the camera that prompted him to ask me if I had gotten sick recently. I told him, yes I had the flu about a week before I started experiencing the aches in my throat, and he then said that he thought the tension was a result of a bad habit of talking I may have developed while I was sick. And since I became so used to it, I continued to talk in that manner despite not being sick anymore.....

So that's basically the diagnosis I got. I was relieved yet once again feeling lost after that appointment...I am grateful it was not anything serious that required surgery..yet I wasn't given a clear cut answer as to WHY I was feeling such discomfort while speaking and singing. After the appointment, I have been trying everything I can think of to get rid of this problem. My doctor prescribed me with acid reflux medication, as I have been suffering from this for a few years now, and I take it twice a day. I was advised by a friend to try out therapeutic massages, as I definitely hold a lot of tension in my neck and shoulder area. Honestly, I can't tell if they actually help or not. I never have enough time to go consistently every week, plus it is quite pricey. The third thing I tried was speech therapy. It helped to a certain extent, but the results weren't promising enough for me to continue. I had 3 sessions and stopped going back...I was of course instructed to practice the exercises on my own, but I would often get that achey feeling when attempting them on my own. Not to mention, speech therapy is extremely expensive. And in fact, I was told by the therapist that my problem wasn't that severe and that I only needed a few sessions...obviously not, seeing this is still a daily struggle for me. Lastly, I have been going to singing lessons at least once a week with my newest vocal coach. I think I have certainly improved in regards to the tension issue...the aches are not as painful now, but they are definitely there. Today was a particularly bad day, which prompted me to come onto this forum. I couldn't say or sing a word today without that annoying feeling in my throat.

Can anybody offer me any advice? I don't mind spending the money to fix this issue as long as I know where I should be focusing my time, energy, and money. I don't want to keep dumping my money into a therapy that won't really help. I don't know if I should be investing in the speech therapy, the massages, the singing lessons. It's all extremely frustrating. Some days I just want to cry because I miss singing without a care. It's gotten to the point where I don't sing very much and I sometimes dread going to my lessons because I don't know what kind of day it will be. Some days, my throat will feel mostly OK, other days it will just be constantly aching. Not that my singing was ever perfect before May 2010, but I want to stress again that any discomfort I ever experienced regarding singing was very minor and only occurred after long bouts of singing; I had also never experienced any soreness while speaking before May 2010, unless I was sick. I don't know if my current issue is a culmination of poor singing technique over the years, or if it was really that flu. I just don't know what to do anymore. If it was simply a singing technique thing, why would my throat hurt in the same manner while I am talking? Sometimes it hurts only when I'm talking, sometimes only when singing, and sometimes both. So frustrating!

P.S. This may or may not be related, but I find that my throat gets EXTREMELY dry when singing..I literally have to take sips of water every 5 minutes..I also get a bit of a tickle in my throat sometimes, which makes me cough.

EDIT: Sorry I keep editing this..there's just so many things...I've been noticing recently that a significant amount of my tension is actually coming from my tongue, just right below my chin. It feels hard, and the last time I went to speech therapy, I could not do a particular exercise where I had to pull my tongue out and just relax it. It literally hurt for me to do that. I also wanted to add that I even got my wisdom teeth taken out a month ago, hoping that the pain I was feeling from my impacted wisdom teeth was what was causing my throat issues.

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I see there have been 21 views (a few of them being my own) since I posted this...can anybody PLEASE give me some advice? I can't be the only one that has ever experienced tension issues and aches and pains around the throat area. I am desperate for any kind of help. I have seen the doctors..I have switched vocal teachers..I estimate that I have spent thousands of dollars since this problem began on various types of therapy, and the problem still persists. I don't really know where else to go from here.

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Songbird this is very hard to figure out. I'm sure many will try to help. So many different things it can be you spoke about acid reflux, how bout mold. You could try not to speak or sing for a couple weeks sometimes complete rest heals sore muscles. It could be you are allergic to something you eat, breathe. Who knows if you went to the dr and they saw nothing I would give it a rest and in the meantime check for mOld and allergies. Wish I could help more. Relax if you are not under time restraints for tour or anything relax

Daniel

Www.danielformicavocalstudio.com

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Couple of questions based on post.

You seem to be able to put this down to a specific date. Can you think back to that time to see if you can imagine having done something else as well, such as yell, squeal, shout (loudly), make any sound totally outside of normal range (especially whilst not warmed up), shout / yell, make kid squeals (sounds) .... etc - you get the idea.

When you started having the issue - did you get a chance to rest voice (i.e. talking 15 mins per day) ?

You say, "it feels more like it's aching" ... Can you explain where .. i.e. on one side of the larynx, just slightly above it, slightly to one side (and feels slightly inside just a little bit) ?

With your singing coach - you say the ache's are still there .. Expand on this (i.e. it seems to happen when sirening and i'm heading higher up in the range, and when I siren - I get a pulling sensation and slight pain afterwards in the upper range (just above voice box, off to one side and slightly inside a little).

Also do you mention this to coach too (as if (s)he is concerned - they should refer you through doc to ENT).

You go on to say " I could not do a particular exercise where I had to pull my tongue out and just relax it". Did you mention this to Speech therapist.

... You may try anchoring tongue behind bottom front teeth and give a few tongue raises and depressions (so raise rear tongue to roof of mouth, then depress to bottom and watch larynx raise and lower). After doing say 10 (or so) of those - do you also feel the same aching sensation ?

... If you were to look in a mirror, make an "ahhh" and siren up (without making any sound), you'll notice the soft palate raise and pharynx start to raise ... Do you get any "quivering" or slight pull whilst doing it ?

(I have changed post, as I cannot ask you to do a task that you may define as a means to cause pain/injury - so apologies, should you choose to do them, do so gentle with no force. They are NOT exercises, just a quick diagnostic).

If so - and also due to the tongue exercises giving issues -(and most importantly as a result of the post), I would have to refer back through speech therapist back to ENT to have a look at the muscle structure for soreness / strain / injury (i'm not ENT and they need to make that type of diagnosis - but I would refer you there as they are the specialists).

If the muscle structure has a strain, you very much may be getting the dry scratchy throat symproms. Speech therapy is there to retrain and you should be doing the exercises.

You also have to consider if the reflux med gave you relief - but ENT would have noticed reflux symptoms.

The best thing to do is either mention to speech therapist to refer back to ENT, or through DOC back to ENT and mention what you have in this post here. That is my recommendation.

Hope it helps, you've mentioned that you don't know what to do. You have already made a good start by mentioning it here, based on recommendations, keep up the momentum and mention the same to the doc's and speech therapists.

I've also noticed you don't have mail listed, hence the post here.

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I really feel for you. Three years ago I developed chronic throat pain and throat spasms. Sometimes I can't talk at all cause my throat goes into a lockdown involuntarily. I've had to give up solid foods for years, because eating triggers spasms, and they can last for hours on end. I had a five hour long episode just the other day, it about did me in, the pain is near unbearable.

Needless to say, I've had to give up singing too in spite of it being probably my biggest aspiration. I feel really bad, because like Videohere, in spite of my situation and a lot of experience here I feel unqualified to help. What I've come to experience is that when a problem happens that is beyond usual suspects (reflux, etc) most doctors seem to be at a loss when it appears to be muscular in nature. What's worse is some wanted to dismiss it as psychogenic, which when you are in that much pain and have your life ruined by illness is just awful to hear.

Which brings up something useful said to me on this forum, is that the level of 'care' between ENT doctors, varies greatly between their expertise in voice functioning. I've seen countless doctors, and my current one's last idea was to have random muscles paralyzed until he found the right one, but now I've been told more about EMG and nerve damage investigation possibilities, so it could be my doctor hasn't or can't do all available options.

Truthiness posted this list of Laryngologists in my thread:

http://www.fauquierent.net/laryngologists.htm

All I can say, is if you feel that you can speak, albeit not perfectly, and you have tried a week or two of total vocal rest, and it didn't fix it, then continually speaking as healthily as you can as properly as possible is probably wise so you have some sense of regularity if nothing else. I don't know how many trips to a voice therapist you'd need to get a good idea of proper speech, but I guess that is tricky.

Myself, I've had to give up speaking in large part, because it's very painful even when done correctly (for a voice therapist with a video of my larynx) and tends to trigger the spasms, so I don't press the issue anymore. After 3 years, I just can't cope with the unpredictable pain of setting off my spasms off for no apparent gain that practicing my voice has ever given me.

It could be stretching and talking more correctly will help improve things, or it could be it does nothing, or it could be like in my case it actually seems to aggravate things. I really hope you get an answer, and I hope it's not severe enough to impact your daily life like mine has been. It's really awful living with a problem like this, but try to fight it out and minimize the negative impact it has as best as you can. Try not to lose more function if you can help it too.

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First off, I want to thank everybody for your responses and help! It is much appreciated. I will try my best to answer your questions.

Stew503,

Honestly, I can’t remember what else may have happened at that time. I’m human like everybody else and I do raise my voice on occasion if I’m angry/frustrated/upset. So I may have shouted – I can’t remember. I just know for sure that I had the flu for about a week.

When I started having this issue, I don’t think I truly had the chance to rest my voice…it was only when I realized how persistent it was, and when it got a bit more severe that I made some attempts at resting my voice. The problem is that I had quite a few performances lined up and couldn’t back out of them. I also have been teaching music to kids and teenagers as my part-time job for the past few years.

I apologize if I’m not being super clear about where I feel the pain in my throat…I’m not at all familiar with the anatomy of it all. It just feels like the pain is coming from right in the middle of my throat – I suppose that would be the larynx? I’m looking at a picture on Google right now and that seems about right. The aches aren’t concentrated to the side…sometimes I feel some general tension around my whole neck, but the aches and pulling sensations seem to be centered in the middle of my throat.

The aches I feel while singing aren’t exclusive to a particular part of my range. I would say that I’m definitely more prone to feeling strains as I work the lowest and highest parts of my range, but it isn’t like I never feel any discomfort while singing something in the middle of my range. For example, I was prompted to come onto this forum because I was having another ‘bad day’, aka almost everything I’m singing and speaking is causing me discomfort.

As to the tongue exercise – yes I did mention it. I was just told that if I continue doing the exercise, that my condition would improve and that my tongue would eventually relax. Problem is that while I am trying my best to do this exercise, it is literally causing me pain, and I get worried that I’m just making the problem worse by forcing my tongue out.

KillerKu,

Thanks for the support! I feel for you too. My throat issues have unfortunately caused me enough pain to impact my daily activities. I hope both you and I find a solution soon!

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1. What was the name of the ENT that you went to? Does this ENT specialize in the needs of singers? This makes a huge difference (and even then, not all ENT's are equal).

I’m afraid I do not remember the name of the ENT I saw. I know, that sounds ridiculous…I’m sure I have the papers somewhere in my house, but I don’t even know where to begin to look. I do know that I was supposed to see another ENT, but the waiting list was just too long for me (4 months). They told me they had just hired a new doctor, so that’s the one I saw. As far as I know, he doesn’t specialize in the needs of singers.

2. What type of scope did they use on you? Did they use a scope that went in the nose or in the mouth?

The scope went in my nose.

3. What types of sounds did the have you make during your laryngoscopy? Vocalizing on EE? In head voice? In chest voice?

I remember being asked to make a lot of ‘hee’ sounds. I think he asked me a few times to go higher, but didn’t specifically ask me to go into head voice.

4. Do you know if they managed to get an up close view of the cords?

Not too sure about this one.

5. Do you actually feel like the acid reflux medication has made a difference for you? Has it improved your voice?

I think there have been improvements, but the reflux isn’t completely gone. I still get the same sensations, but it is just less severe. It also depends on how much I’ve been eating, and what I was eating.

6. With the massage, do you know what muscles specifically they focused on?

I have mentioned my tension issues to my massage therapist, and most recently the tension I have noticed with my tongue. It appears that she is mostly working on the front of my neck and right underneath my chin.

7. Which exercises were you doing in your speech therapy sessions?

I did a lot of exercises with a straw. I had to make sounds and send the air through the straw and not through my nose. We usually started with just hums, then progressed to doing sirens. Another exercise that we did was the one I mentioned with the tongue. I was told to take a piece of gauze and pull my tongue out to try to let it hang and relax. With my tongue out, I was supposed to make ‘hah’ sounds. This was completely unsuccessful as my tongue was too stubborn to come out..if it did, I felt a pain underneath my tongue. After warming up the voice, I would practice saying lines.

8. Where exactly is your ache at? Front of the throat? Back of the throat? Off to the side? Dead center? Upper portions of throat? Lower portions of throat?

I tried in my previous post to describe this…I’m really trying to think about this and describe it as clearly as I can. When I feel discomfort while speaking or singing, it feels like the soreness is coming from the middle of my throat. Sometimes, such as recently, I will also feel tension right underneath my chin. If I’m really stressed out and tense, my whole neck will feel strained. But the primary source of pain seems to come from the middle of my throat…if a vocal coach were to say to a singer that he/she was pushing from the throat, it feels like that would be me. It feels like I’m pushing from my throat too much when I sing or talk, hence why I feel the aches and pulling sensations at the center of my throat.

9. Do you feel this discomfort equally at all dynamic levels? Throughout your entire range? On all vowels?

I generally feel discomfort equally at all dynamic levels. I seem to be more prone to the aches when singing too low or high for my range, but I have felt discomfort at any part of my range before. I’ve felt it when I was speaking quietly, when I was speaking loudly…most vowels seem to be affected as well, especially on the more open ones. I often cannot carry through my vocal exercises if I’m singing on ‘ah’. ‘Ee’ seems to be the easiest one for me and causes me the least amount of discomfort.

10. Did you have any dietary or environmental changes at the time you first started to experience this discomfort?

The only thing I can remember is that I had the flu about a week before I discovered this problem.

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... As for me - pretty much as Dante suggests. I would ask the same.

The "only" ... difference I would ask is ... IF you do have clips or you are going to record, can you do this in a lesson with your coach in their environment (and ask permission of coach too). Ask coach after warm up (as you normally do) and then to diagnostic "ee", "oo" and "ah" throughout the course of a lesson. I would prefer it in that controlled environment and under your coaches direction and that would be my advice.

The other thing is ... When you show this problem in front of coach, what does (s)he ask you to do ? (i.e. give more energy, less energy, more support, less support ... Can you explain what is asked of you, and then what happens in the way of feeling once you do as coach suggests (i.e. it (pulls) more or (pulls) less). and has coach suggested ENT ?

... I must also reiterate, that as this soreness / tenderness / ache / pain also manifests itself in speech that Doc / ENT / Speech therapist would be advised. Also keep up with the Lost Voice in a Painful Way post in the Vocal Health & Preservation section and their contributors.

Stewart

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