The Basics of Muscle Tension Dysphonia

Muscle tension dysphonia is a condition that, believe it or not, most of us will experience at some point. Have you ever had the sensation of a “frog” in your throat or that your voice is being constricted by the muscles that surround it? Or perhaps an overzealous session of singing in the shower has caused your voice to become strained? This sensation is what most medical professions would refer to as muscle tension dysphonia. In fact, this condition is kind of a general umbrella term because it refers to any kind of vocal cord strain that results from misuse of the muscles that surround this sensitive area.

The Symptoms of Muscle Tension Dysphonia

The symptoms of dysphonia can vary from person to person depending on the individual and how severe their condition is. In most cases, the voice itself is affected. A person suffering from this type of dysphonia is likely to experience a significant change in the sound of their voice; for instance, it may sound hoarse, raspy, or gritty. The sound and pitch of a person’s voice will probably also be effects causing noises to sound breathless, whispered, tight, or strained. In addition to these symptoms, it is not uncommon for the affected person’s voice to change pitch or cut off entirely while speaking. Less severe symptoms of muscle tension dysphonia include weakening of vocal strength with continued use of the vocal cords, restriction of one’s vocal pitch range, pain or discomfort when speaking, and loss of energy or strength of the throat muscles.

You might suffer from a combination of symptoms, such as tightness of the throat and feeling as though your voice has to push through an obstacle as well as tenderness whenever you touch your throat. In most cases, excessive use of the muscles in the throat and around the voice box will result in worsening of the condition and symptoms, causing prolonged voice changes and even loss of voice.

What Causes Muscle Tension Dysphonia?

Doctors aren’t actually sure exactly what causes muscle tension dysphonia to develop, but there are plenty of theories about the factors that might contribute to this condition. One way is through overuse or abuse of the muscles surrounding the voice box. For people who regularly sing or speak for a living, the dysphonia could actually be a result of straining the throat and neck while using their voice. The muscles surrounding the vocal cords can become tensed when you strain to project your voice or attempt to reach notes that are outside of your general vocal range. Even after the singing and speaking is over, the muscles may be so inflamed that they remain tightened or even swollen as a result of their overuse.

Another theory regarding the cause of this type of dysphonia is that muscles that operate the vocal cords may be misaligning so that they do not meet up at the right time. This could be the result of improper airflow through the cords or that the flaps of tissue that make up the vocal cords simply aren’t reacting at the same precise moment. This causes the sounds produced by the voice box to be distorted, as is evidenced by the typical symptoms associated with this condition.

It is also possible that stress could have an influencing factor on dysphonia. Stress and anxiety can cause muscle tension all over the body, especially in the neck and shoulder regions. It stands to reason that if stress were to cause excessive tightness in the muscles of the neck and throat that the effects could manifest in vocal restriction.

How is this Condition Diagnosed?

In order to truly confirm muscle tension dysphonia you will need to see a doctor. In addition to using your symptoms as a guideline, the doctor will probably choose to examine your vocal cords using an endoscope, which is a thin, long piece of equipment with a light and a camera attached to the end. The doctor will be able to better detect muscle tension this way as well as any possible underlying causes, such as inflammation or a cyst.

Treating Dysphonia

The treatment that is used for this condition usually depends on the underlying cause. For instance, if the vocal muscles are tight because of swelling caused by inflammation, then an anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed. A few muscle massage techniques can be used on the throat to help encourage the muscles there to relax. Warm compresses to the area before using massage techniques can help to promote good blood flow which can make the muscles more receptive to massaging.

Rest is a big factor in recovering from this condition. Warm liquids and refraining from using the vocal cords is a great way to allow the muscles in the throat to relax and recuperate. Anti-inflammatory medication may be used in conjunction with rest to reduce discomfort and swelling. In mild cases, this condition can be alleviated by simply avoiding vocal exercises that cause muscle strain and excessive clenching.

In some instance it is thought that speech therapy can reduce and eliminate dysphonia. Some individuals may be inadvertently using their vocal muscles improperly and being taught how to correctly use these muscles can cut back on unnecessary vocal strain.