From the answers to my recent questionnaire, vocal strain is the subject most often on my readers' minds. You spoke, and I listened.
This is a big subject. Instead of just a series of posts, I will be writing about vocal strain off and on, interspersed with other vocal subjects in which you and other readers have expressed interest. Also per reader preferences, some posts will be short tips, some longer articles.
Here are the top 17 causes of vocal strain I see in singers and speakers:
1. Bad Breathing Technique:
...inhaling too high in chest, too much or uncontrolled breath pressure applied to vocal cords.
2. Tight Throat Channel:
...tightness where nose, throat and mouth meet at the "post-nasal drip zone".
... 20 minutes of yelling, screaming or "shooting your voice from your throat" can result in blood blisters, the beginnings of vocal nodes, appearing on the vocal cords. Keep it up and you'll harden those blisters into callouses, polyps, nodes, or even cause vocal cord paralysis or vocal cord hemorrhage.
4. Acute Viral Laryngitis:
... which usually is triggered by an upper respiratory illness, but sometimes appears without other signs of sickness.
5. Acid Reflux (GERD)
... most damaging if it is laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR)
... causes irritation, swelling and dehydration of the cords
7. Talking too loud, too long, without good vocal technique... can cause serious vocal damage. Many times the first thing I address to correct vocal strain is the person's speaking voice.
8. Chronic or Strong Coughing
... the constant hitting of your vocal cords together is as bad as yelling. You must get to the bottom of the cause of the cough and cure it. Sometimes it's GERD or LPR, sometimes a short term virus, post nasal drip, allergen or other air-born irritant, sometimes it's throat cancer. See your doctor if your cough lingers or brings up blood.
9. Bone and joint problems:
... lack of strength and flexibility in the spine tremendously affect the voice; pain in spine or between ribs can indeed cause vocal strain from breath and throat issues.
10. Muscle tension problems:
... trigger tight chest and/or throat channel and "freezing" of anatomy... always detrimental to voice.
11. Fatigue problems
... inhibiting good support/control, causing slumping of body with concurrent high, pushed breathing and throat tightness.
12. Posture issues
... causes pushing of breath, tightness of throat channel and guarding stance.
13. Emotional problems
... nervousness, lack of confidence, numbness, eating disorders, addictions, chronic resentments, inability to focus on communicating. These emotions affect anatomy in ways that can cause vocal strain.
14. Lack of Sleep
... causing once again, slumping of body and breathing/throat issues
... the vocal cords need a thin layer of mucus lubricating them to move most efficiently. Not enough water intake results in a thickening of this lining... imagine your boat running aground and you'll have an idea of what your dehydrated voice experiences.
16. Flabby Core (insufficient physical exercise)
... causing slumped posture, unsupported and under controlled breath and tight throat.
17. Endo-tracheal damage from being on a ventilator
... if you must undergo surgery, watch for this one.
Need your help:
Which of these 17 top causes of vocal strain do you want me to write more about next? Or... is there another cause of vocal strain that you'd like to add to this list for me to address?