Let’s start with “how do we even produce sound?” What actions are involved with speaking and singing? For most (like my own child who can deliver entire 45 minute monologues without stopping), speaking is so effortless that we are generally unaware of the complex processes and precise mechanics behind the act.
The human voice is produced by 3 source systems that all work together to deliver sound:
- A source of wind: The lungs, diaphragm, ribs, chest muscles, and abdominal muscles provide and regulate air pressure.
- A source of vibration: Air from the wind source pushes past the vocal cords in the throat (larynx) which vibrate to create sound waves.
- A source of resonance: For the sound waves to become words, they are shaped by the chambers of our mouth, nose, and throat (pharynx). How we move our jaw, tongue, cheeks, and lips helps to modulate this sound.
Seems easy enough, right? Use those three systems and just make it sound pretty. Boom, singing. Well, if it was really that easy, I would be opening for Carrie Underwood each weekend but I promise no one wants to hear that. The truth is, singing takes proper training just like a sport. These artists (or athletes, if you will) have to learn the basics, warm up properly, and often train for years to perfect their technique. Many high-performance artists also have a team to help them train, stay healthy, and keep them in top performance mode. If you are an avid singer, Champion Wellness could be part of your team!
2 Common Struggles Singers Face, And How Chiropractic Can Help
1. Vocal Distress Caused By Neck Tension
Vocal distress from neck tension is a change in the sound of your voice from tight muscles near the voice box. Symptoms vary and may include a voice that sounds hoarse, a pitch that is too high or too low, a voice that “gives out” or becomes weaker with use, difficulty singing notes that used to be easy, or even pain and tension in the throat with speaking or singing.
How does this happen? There are many reasons why we may get pain and tightness in the neck region. It could be caused by a major injury like whiplash in a car accident, or something smaller like sleeping in an awkward position on the couch. However, most often it is caused by a series of normal daily activities that created dysfunction over time.
Why does this matter? As previously mentioned, one of the 3 key sources to deliver sound involves how we move our jaw, tongue, cheeks, and lips. How we form shapes with these muscles determines what word sounds we create with the wind as it resonates through the chambers of our mouth, nose, and throat. If the muscles of our neck and jaw are tight, it causes strain to create sound. A specific type of distress, Muscle Tension Dysphonia, is when the actual muscle folds within the voice box are affected as well.
The good news is, if addressed early, conservative treatment can significantly improve voice distress caused by muscle tightness. A chiropractor can check for muscle imbalances with a functional exam and provide gentle muscle release therapies to help ease tension. Dr. Heather often works with the massage therapists at Champion Wellness to co-manage patients with significant muscle tension. Chiropractic adjustments are often beneficial as well to improve mobility and range of motion of the neck and upper back. However, the most important step is rehabilitative measures to ensure the root issue does not return! This may include targeted strengthening exercises, posture training with core stabilization, or cardio stamina training to reduce the use of accessory breathing muscles. In cases of Muscle Tension Dysphonia, patients may be referred to a speech language pathologist for voice therapy in conjunction with their conservative chiropractic care.
2. Running Out Of Breath While Singing
Breathing may seem like such a simple task, but take a brisk jog up 10 flights of stairs and tell me how easy breathing is then. Granted, most singers are not performing while jogging a staircase like Rocky Balboa, but breath control is an athletic ability nonetheless.
How does this happen? A source of wind is vital to the production of sound. Air must pass over the vocal cords to create the vibrations, and how we control that air will determine how hard we have to work for our sound. To breathe correctly to protect your singing voice, one should breathe from the diaphragm so the stomach, not the chest, rises with inhalation. The diaphragm is a muscle that sits at the bottom of your sternum and lower rib cage to separate the chest cavity from the abdomen. It is an important muscle for the regulation of air pressure in the production of sound and diaphragmatic singing helps protect your vocal cords, improves your vocal range, and allows you to achieve a fuller, louder sound.
How can this be improved? If you feel like you are about to pass out before you reach the last chorus of a Celine Dion song, don’t worry. The diaphragm is a muscle and can be strengthened with exercises just like any other muscle in the body. The team at Champion Wellness can help train you on proper muscle control for diaphragmatic breathing (aka belly breathing). Simple steps such as avoiding foods that cause heartburn and warming up before exercise can also help to keep the diaphragm healthy. Additionally, conservative therapies like chiropractic adjustments and muscle release therapies such as massage, cupping, or instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) enable proper mobility of the upper and lower back regions. These regions, along with the abdomen, all contain muscles vital to the regulation of air pressure for delivering sound.
Just as the diaphragm can be strengthened like any other muscle, it is also susceptible to injury like any other muscle. Problems of the diaphragm may produce symptoms such as heartburn, hiccups, headaches, increased heart rate, or even pain in the chest, back, shoulder, or abdomen. Because some signs of diaphragm problems are similar to the symptoms of a heart attack, it is always advised to seek immediate medical help.
So CAN chiropractic make you a BETTER singer?
While chiropractic care may not secure a record deal, it can be an essential part of maintaining a singers health and wellness for career longevity. Conservative care from Champion Wellness can help treat and prevent 2 common struggles that many singers face: vocal distress from neck tension and running out of breath while singing. To learn more about the services we offer give us a call or go online to schedule your appointment today!
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Cleaveland Clinic Research