Riva Capellari

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Located in Brookside in the heart of Kansas City

The Tired Voice

Vocal Fatigue
Are you are professional voice user? If you use your voice as your primary means of occupational communication, the answer is yes. In other words, if you lost your voice or were unable to use it effectively, it would greatly impact your job.

There are an estimated 10 million workers in the U.S. who rely heavily on their voices as their primary tool of trade.* These people are at risk of vocal injury and fatigue mostly because they get inadequate recovery time from their vocal responsibilities. Some of those at great risk for vocal injury and fatigue are teachers, politicians, entertainers, the clergy, aerobic and dance instructors, newscasters, telephone marketers and others whose jobs require heavy voice use on a daily basis. In addition to long term, daily vocal use, sudden intense vocal production with unconditioned and untrained vocal folds puts you at risk for injury, similar to the consequences experienced by some weekend athletes.
So what is vocal fatigue, can it be prevented, and how to treat it?
There are two basic types of vocal fatigue. Tissue and muscular. The muscular portion of the vocal folds is covered by a protective mucosal layer that is responsible for most of the vibratory action in phonation. The collisions and rubbing the vocal folds experience daily impact the condition of this layer. Excessive amounts of vocal use or effortful vocal production while suffering from colds, allergies, etc. can result in erythemia (redness from dilated capellaries and increased blood flow) and edema (fluid accumulation) from the heat generated by the friction from intense vibratory collisions. If the vocal folds are not allowed to restore themselves back to their normal state, the fluid becomes more solid and takes longer to resolve. This results in a stiffer and larger tissue mass and sometimes, asymmetrical folds that can cause multiphonia, producing more than one pitch at a time. In this altered state, the vibratory pattern of the vocal folds is negatively affected causing some or all of the following symptoms: increased effort to phonate, onset delays, hoarseness, breathy tones, undependable vocal production and decreased vocal endurance. The voice fatigues more quickly, vocal ability diminishes and negative habitual changes in vocal production can become permanent if the condition does not change and compensation occurs. Acute injuries usually resolve themselves if care is taken to stop the intense vocalization and rest the voice. Chronic vocal problems usually require medical treatment.
Muscle makes up 75% of the vocal fold structure. The second type of vocal fatigue, muscular fatigue, can result from vocal tissue problems. Phonatory threshold pressure, PTP, is the amount of air pressure needed to vibrate the folds. When the tissue is swollen, the vocal folds cannot close adequately, causing inefficient use of the air pressure. As more pressure is needed to phonate, we often turn to pushing and straining causing more swelling and muscular tension not only of the vocal muscle, but those of our neck and jaw, even shoulders. A vicious cycle that can only be ended in most cases, with vocal rest.
The muscles of the larynx (voice box) are small and fatigue easier and quicker than other muscles in the body. Working muscles consume nutrients to function leaving behind waste products such as lactic acid. Cooling down the voice with gentle humming and sirens can help bring the voice back to a healthy condition by bringing in a fresh blood supply to disperse the lactic acid, carry away the waste products and transport in nutrients to create new cells, setting up the muscles to be able to work again. Muscle fatigue is more quickly relieved, minutes to hours compared to tissue fatigue which can take up to several days. Without adequate recovery time, vocal fatigue will only get worse; tissue will break down and possibly result in more serious problems such as nodules or hemorrhaging from the rupture of fragile dilated capellaries.
So what to do? Since much impact on the vocal folds is generated by 3 vocal use patterns, 1) elevated volume, 2) elevated pitch and 3) vocal fold pressing, indulging in some vocal training would go a long way in preventing serious vocal health problems. Using the natural resonance of the vocal instrument to project rather than pushing or forcing to gain volume and finding your optimal speaking pitch (ex. Say uh huh – this will give you your natural pitch) will decrease the load on your vocal folds. Learning to breathe properly and use the right amount of air pressure to support vocal tone allows the folds to phonate more easily without strain. In order for the respiratory system to work efficiently, correct, up-right posture should be maintained whether sitting or standing. Warming up the voice regularly will strengthen and protect it and cooling it down at the end of a heavy vocal use day will help to relax and restore both the muscles and the tissues. Even gentle neck and shoulder stretches throughout the day will help relieve any tension that might easily transfer to your vocal production.
Avoid heavy coughing, throat clearing and glottal attacks. Stay hydrated. Your body needs to maintain a healthy level of hydration to function well. The tissue of the vocal folds needs constant lubrication, making them “slippery” for easier vibration and phonation. Moist tissue also decreases the amount of heat produced by continuous vibratory motion. Monitor the amount of vocal use outside your job – create a vocal “budget” that provides for adequate vocal rest time. And above all, stay healthy. A healthy body will support a healthy voice.
*National Center for Voice and Speech
The Voice Book. DeVore and Cookman.Chicago Review Press, 2009.
Bodymind & Voice. L.Thurman & G. Welch,co-eds. The VoiceCare Network., 2000.
Your Voice: An Inside View. S. McCoy, DMA. Inside View Press,2004.
The change of season brings many things – shorter days, cool mornings – hot days, glorious color and falling leaves. These changes can also affect your voice: dust from furnaces that have stood idle through the warm months, irritation from leaf residue, allergies, nasal drip, altered sleep patterns. Be aware of these changes and how they can affect your voice for good or ill and take action! Wear a mask when raking, buy an air filter, adapt your sleeping habits to the new rhythm of the days. And stay in good voice!
If you missed enrolling in the September voice class, you still have a chance to join the October class starting Wednesday, October 12 through November 16. The class is held at my Brookside studio from 7-8pm, the cost is a bargain $70!
If you are a professional voice user, especially a teacher who may be headed for that “autumn vocal meltdown” this is a great opportunity to learn the basics of good, healthy vocal production and voice care. The classes are small so individual attention can be given to each person’s specific needs. If you have any questions, contact me at [email protected] or 816-444-5089.
Here are a few website that may be helpful. National Center for Voice and Speech – good for general and scientific information on the voice. The Voice Foundation – good for medical questions.
As always, reVoice offers gift packages ranging from $25 to $85 that can be used towards individual sessions or classes. Contact me at [email protected] or 816-444-5089.

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