By Siobhan Groves, CF-SLP
As summer winds down and fall approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on how much we use our voices. For many people, summer allows for more rest and relaxation. The pace of life slows down as the weather heats up and for some in vocally demanding professions – for example, singers, teachers, and clergy – the pace at which they use their voices will slow down too. A high voice demand at work and at home is a significant contributor to vocal injury. At CEENTA, we see patients with a high vocal demand throughout the year, but often patients will wait to come see us in the summer when they have more time in their schedule and their vocal demand is lower.
This makes fall the perfect time to think about vocal pacing. Vocal pacing is the idea of finding a balance between voice use and voice rest, prioritizing necessary voice use and being deliberate about resting the voice at other times. This can be difficult for those with a high voice demand but, it’s essential for avoiding a voice injury. At CEENTA, we recommend scheduling voice rest into your day if you are a heavy voice user at work or at home. We refer to short periods of voice rest as “voice naps,” where the person doesn’t talk for 5 to 15 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day.
For singers, this means taking advantage of breaks during rehearsals. Singers will also want to consider the material they are singing and evenly distribute practice between pieces that are vocally demanding and those that are less so. Singers should also consider “marking” during rehearsals by singing at a lower vocal intensity when possible. Teachers will want to consider reconfiguring their teaching style by breaking up long lectures and building in time for student discussion or independent work.
For any person, it’s important to consider what is necessary voice use, and what is unnecessary. For example, consider if a conversation needs to be a phone call or if it can be accomplished by text or email. Rather than having a conversation over speaker phone in the car, take advantage of the time alone by listening to a podcast or reflecting on your goals for the day. People with a heavy voice demand can also enlist their friends, family, and co-workers to help with this. Let them know that you’re concerned about voice injury and that it’s important for you to take breaks from voice use throughout the day. Let the people in your life help you be accountable for your voice use and support you when you are resting your voice.
Taking voice breaks is especially important if you are sick or your voice is tired. It is very common for patients to tell us that their voice problems began while they were “pushing” their voice during periods of illness or increased vocal demand. It is important to differentiate between total voice rest (no talking or singing whatsoever) and vocal pacing. Total voice rest is an important part of recovering from a voice injury, but not something that is advisable long-term. Vocal cords, like any muscle in the body, are subject to deconditioning or atrophy if a person goes too long without using them. One to two days of total voice rest at a time may be appropriate in some situations, but a person with a high voice demand may risk deconditioning if they spend too long on total voice rest. Instead, consider vocal pacing to preserve the voice and maintain the conditioning necessary to keep up with your voice demand.
As always, if you are experiencing pain or sudden changes to your voice quality, it is most appropriate to consult with an ENT for further medical guidance.This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. Siobhan Groves is a voice & swallowing specialist who sees patients in CEENTA’s SouthPark office. To schedule an appointment with her or any of CEENTA’s voice & swallowing specialists, call 704-295-3000