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Vocal Injury Not Involving the Vocal Cords

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JohnScott
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I'm puzzled by a problem one of my students is having with his voice. Maybe someone else has seen this. I'll call him Mark.

Mark is a professional singer who stopped singing for a few years and has restarted. He has a fabulous voice, and as I work with him via Skype he can sing up to C5 with vibratto and a clean adducted vocal cord without excessive weight. I don't hear any swelling of the vocal cords or breaks between registers.

The problem is that when he performs (Solo with Guitar) he complains of a sore voice the next day. He also mentions the feeling of a foreign object in his throat when he swallows.

He mentions that he had a martial arts instructor who placed his fingers behind his larynx and applied pressure (!!) Could this have damaged the cartilage of his larynx or the surrounding muscles and account for his discomfort?

He's in Ireland and doesn't have access to high level voice teachers there.

Any thoughts?

-John

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With due respect to Martin that this can, indeed, be an effect of "starting all over again," it is possible to have incurred damage in martial arts training. For example, I have broken cartilege in the end of my nose from Tae Kwon Do in the late 80's. And this was controlled sparring with gloves. Which does not stop you from getting injured. But I am sincerely hoping that Martin is right. It's just the protesting of muscles that have atrophied and will go away with further training.

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I'm puzzled by a problem one of my students is having with his voice. Maybe someone else has seen this. I'll call him Mark.

Mark is a professional singer who stopped singing for a few years and has restarted. He has a fabulous voice, and as I work with him via Skype he can sing up to C5 with vibratto and a clean adducted vocal cord without excessive weight. I don't hear any swelling of the vocal cords or breaks between registers.

The problem is that when he performs (Solo with Guitar) he complains of a sore voice the next day. He also mentions the feeling of a foreign object in his throat when he swallows.

He mentions that he had a martial arts instructor who placed his fingers behind his larynx and applied pressure (!!) Could this have damaged the cartilage of his larynx or the surrounding muscles and account for his discomfort?

-John

Hi, John. I cannot say that I have ever encountered this particular combination. However, I can propose an experiment that you can do over a special skype lesson with him, that may help give you insight into the situation.

Split the lesson into 2 parts. Warm him up with your normal lesson vocalises, and then have him continue the vocalises while you cease the skype session, continuing for a period of time equivalent to one of his performances.

Instruct him during this period to take a small drink of water every 5 minutes or so, and to make a note of the time when the 'foreign object' sensation first appears. At first appearance of this sensation, he should stop singing/talking for 10 minutes, and then resume his vocalises making the same notations and other procedures.

At the end of the total time period, resume the skype lesson, and discuss his experience. Have him sing a few of his songs, and watch particularly for jaw, larynx and head positionings during them, and listen for registration issues and tongue tension.

As to the specific vocalises, I think it would be instructive to include 10 or 15 minutes of exercises sustaining particular vowels. Of especial interest would be /i/, /u/, /e/ and /a/, as they have distinctly high, or low positions for the tongue hump which can lead to rigidity.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

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At the end of the total time period, resume the skype lesson, and discuss his experience. Have him sing a few of his songs, and watch particularly for jaw, larynx and head positionings during them, and listen for registration issues and tongue tension.

Steven,

This is a great suggestion, as it will hopefully give us more clues to his difficulty in performing. On scales, he sounds great, but we only have a half hour slot on Skype, so I haven't been able to re-create the problem in our lessons. I love this scientific approach.

Do you think that the larynx or the surrounding muscles could become out of alignment due to the martial arts injury? Would there be a treatment for that?

-John

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Do you think that the larynx or the surrounding muscles could become out of alignment due to the martial arts injury? Would there be a treatment for that?

-John

John: I don't think this is an alignment issue. Unless there was actual damage to a bone, muscle, tendon or cartilege, all these parts connect to specific things in particular points, and IMO don't 'go out of alignment'. I think determination of an actual injury would need some highly expert medical imaging and review to determine for sure. For example, there may be subtle bruise scars or tendon damage.

However, I think its reasonable to approach this from the standpoint of the effect on vocal function. We both know that very subtle changes in muscle action characteristics will result in phonation and resonance qualities that can be heard in the sound. My personal belief is that the trained ear of the teacher is one of the very best tools for assessing issues there, and (unless I am mistaken) you are not hearing unusual sound in his voice.

In my younger life as a singer, there have been times when I have done something stupid that has taken me vocally out of action or which gave me sensations I think may be something like you describe. With this student of yours, I do not get the sense that the muscles involved are affecting the vocal function, but rather have something to do with the way that the related muscles of the throat are postured during singing of his songs.

The approach I suggested was to gather thre bits of data... 1) that the issue did or did not occur when singing vocalises (not songs) for a period of time matching the length of one of his performances, 2) to determine if there was any correlation of the undesirable sensation with particular vowels, and 3) to see if there are any telltale signs during the singing of songs, even postural elements, that can give a clue.

The second of these can be used to help understand if hidden tongue tension is involved, what I think is a generally good starting point for isolating the source of his sensation. From that point, things become more difficult, as there are many sets of muscles involved in the swallowing reflex, and determining which one, and then what singing aspects could be adjusted to help the situation.

In one aspect, I am in agreement with Martin H, this may simply go away as the voice comes back into shape.

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