Vocal Fatigue: Let’s talk about it

11 Nov, 2019

Voice refers to the ability to engage in meaningful conversation, and to make a difference or impact upon key decisions. Our voice allows us to express our views, thoughts and feelings, as well as influence outcomes and manipulate contexts with words we speak.

Our tone, pitch, quality of articulation and inflection deliver subtle messages about the kind of person we are, and these components convey our mood and our feelings at a particular time. Having the capacity to project appropriate sounds can make a critical difference in the way we are perceived and treated. Overuse or misuse of our voice can lead to vocal fatigue. We use our voice every day and so it is important that we look after it.

What is Vocal Fatigue?

Strictly speaking, our voices don’t tire. Voice, after all, is air from the lungs shaped and carried in waves to the listener’s ear. Our structures that create the voice, however, can tire, work inefficiently or become damaged from overuse. Vocal fatigue is when the muscles of your larynx tire out and cause a feeling of pain.

A reduction in endurance, loudness control, pitch control as well as poor voice quality and an unstable sounding voice are often symptoms and complaints of individuals experiencing vocal fatigue.

Vocal fatigue

Fatigue can be felt in the non-muscular laryngeal tissues surrounding the vocal folds. Individuals usually complain of dry mouth, a feeling of a ‘lump’ in the throat, shortness of breath, and that it takes effort to speak and maintain volume.

Why is Being Aware of our Voice Important?

Infrequent or hard exercise makes our muscles ache. The same goes for muscles required for voice. The muscles around the ribs (intercostals) and abdomen expand and contract to provide breath for speaking. Loud or excessive talking may make these muscles tire. Some people then fall into the unhealthy habit of overusing muscles of the neck to “push” the voice. These little muscles can’t fully and consistently do the work of the big muscles of the abdomen and rib areas. Thus, the neck muscles are worn out before the working day is over.

When you feel your voice dragging at day’s end, consider:

  • Human vocal folds collide 100-1000 times per second;
  • Vocal folds collide many hundreds thousands times per day;
  • Increasing pitch and volume increases vocal fold friction;
  • High or loud talking makes vocal tissues tire faster;
  • Most people speak frequently each day, five days a week

Preventing Vocal Fatigue – Vocal Hygiene

Muscles tire as “good” chemicals (nutrients, etc.) are consumed and waste products (lactic acid) build up in muscle fibres.  Our blood flow transports nutrients to muscle fibres and carries away lactic acid. Because our circulatory systems work constantly, chemicals exchange quickly, meaning we can recover from muscle fatigue fairly easily however, we can also implement vocal hygiene strategies to elevate or prevent fatigue.

Vocal hygiene involves taking steps to keep your vocal folds healthy and your voice strong and clear and can include:

  • Drink water regularly throughout the day, especially if you are speaking frequently. Our vocal folds are covered by a thin layer of mucous. … Adequate consumption of water is vital to keeping the mucosal layer moist.
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption to prevent the vocal folds from drying out.
  • Avoid shouting and yelling.  Use alternatives such as whistling or waving to gain attention or walk over to the person who you wish to speak with.
  • Avoid irritants such as dust, sprays and smoke.
  • Avoid talking over background noise.  For example, turn down the radio or television when you are talking, move to a quieter area when you have to speak in a noisy area or wind up the windows in traffic.
  • Avoid throat clearing and excessive coughing.  If you do have to clear your throat, do it gently.  Try sips of water, sucking on a lolly (not anything containing menthol) or a dry swallow instead of throat clearing.
  • Avoid speaking or singing if you have a sore throat.  Particularly avoid the use of aspirin for pain relief as this may increase the likelihood of damage to the vocal folds. If you have to talk loudly to project your voice for long periods, ensure that you know the correct voice projection techniques.  Alternatively use a microphone.
  • Ensure you have vocal rest after speaking for a prolonged amount of time.

Vocal fatigue is something everyone experiences, so it is important to be aware of how to look after our voice. However, if you feel that you have consistent symptoms of vocal fatigue, that it is painful to talk for long periods of time, that your voice (or lack of) is getting in the way of your job or livelihood, or that you had a cold or upper respiratory infection and your rough voice never went away, it is important to seek further advice from a speech pathologist.

At Gen Physio, we have a friendly team of professionals that are dedicated to changing the lives of our clients. All of our clinicians are mobile and come to your own home to conduct an examination. Give us a call on 1300 122 884 to book your mobile speech therapy service today.


You may also like…