A molecular biologist told me how long it took to recover from vocal fold damage. His answer is important for all singers – says Ingo Titze.
Move to Heal
There is no vocal pathology or surgery that requires months and months of voice rest. Almost every type of voice healing is actually accelerated with a little movement. We used to think that healing took place when that part of the body was immobile, but we now know that’s not the case.
We used to think that healing took place when that part of the body was immobile, but we now know that’s not the case.
Whether it is back pain or knee replacement surgery, you are encouraged to move and stretch. This generates a quicker and better healing in the cells and tissues. The same applies to the larynx and vocal folds.
The only vocal surgery that requires a fortnight or more of rest is a vocal haemorrhage. This is where a blood vessel bursts and fills the surrounding tissue with blood.
We have discovered that tiny blood vessels don’t repair themselves very well when there is motion, so in this instance the best thing is total voice rest for 2 weeks.
The Road to Recovery
I’ve asked several professional singers how long it takes their voice to get back to normal after a strained performance. One singer was so quick with her answer it blew me away. She said:
“One day is not enough, 2 is good, 3 days is perfect, 4 days is too long”.
She had worked this out after years of exhaustive gigging and had a reliable healing time frame for herself.
I also asked a molecular biologist how long it took molecules to recover from damage in the vocal folds. He was almost as quick and said “72 hours”.
These people had never met but came to the same conclusion. It may not be the same for every individual. For example, only you know how long you can be in the sun before getting sunburnt. You have to go through the cycle of fatigue and recovery before you can truly know.
The Pros and Cons of Vocal Fry
Vocal fry is a great exercise to help relax your vocal fold muscles if you are too tense. Many ‘voice rehab’ coaches use fry as a way of gently re-introducing vocal fold movement.
Vocal fry or ‘creak’ is the phonation mode where the vocal fold muscles are at their most relaxed.
Here is a great video explaining the artistic merit and physiology of vocal fry:
Everyone can do their best creaky voice first thing in the morning, straight out of bed. The muscles are relaxed and the tissue is very pliable.
Throughout the day we lose this relaxed state, and many people find they can’t do a creaky voice at all at the end of the day.
On the flip side: If you habitually use fry like many current U.S celebrities, your vocal muscles are never stretched. And if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Regular Vocal Exercise
Semi-occluded vocal tract exercises you can do for a few minutes at a time
There was a study conducted on a child who had cerebral palsy and never spoke. When the child passed away, the parents donated his larynx for research purposes. The vocal ligaments within his vocal folds never developed due to his lack of speech.
Likewise, there was a study conducted on an older person who stopped using their voice in their elder years. We found in this case that their vocal ligament had started to degenerate and disappear because of non-use.
It is believed that the complex layered structure of the vocal folds is maintained and strengthened through exercise just like any other muscle or ligament in the body is conditioned through running or lifting weights.
So this is why I encourage singers of all genres to do semi-occluded vocal tract exercises daily for a few minutes at a time to keep flexibility and muscularity in their voice.
Ingo R. Titze is a vocal scientist and executive director of the National Center for Voice and Speech and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He also teaches at the Summer Vocology Institute, also housed at the University of Utah. He is a Distinguished Professor at the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Iowa and has written several books relating to the human voice.