Vocal Cord Surgery Plus Vocal Rehabilitation Therapy: A Winning Combination
In my 35 years in practice as a voice therapist, I have seen amazing results using voice therapy to help my patients. I’ve been fortunate to achieve resolution of hundreds of cases of vocal cord nodules, muscle tension dysphonia, vocal strain, and chronic laryngitis. People with weak vocal cords (“paresis”) have regained near-normal voices in some cases. We’ve even seen some miraculous results with a small number of polyps and cysts being reduced to the point where the patients were no longer candidates for surgery.
Sometimes, though, voice therapy alone is not enough to return a patient to full vocal function, especially when it concerns the elite professional voice user, such as a singer. In the case of vocal cord polyps and cysts, surgery is often required, with pre- and post-surgical vocal rehabilitation therapy an essential part of the voice recovery program. The best outcomes are seen with patients who faithfully attend 4 to 6 pre-operative voice therapy sessions, then have the surgery, followed by 5-7 days of strict vocal rest. Then therapy resumes, along with a program of vocal conservation, vocal hygiene (including hydration and steam inhalation, reflux management, and vocal abuse avoidance), and voice therapy techniques. These include posture/alignment work, musculoskeletal tension reduction exercises, voice placement techniques, and breath control exercises.
Our client, band singer and church soloist Melissa Baker, is an ideal patient. She planned weeks in advance so that her vocal rest and vocal conservation period would go off without a hitch. You see, Melissa is not just an amazing lead singer in a wedding band. She’s also an amazing mother of two young children. In other words, she has two full-time, VERY vocally-demanding jobs. Melissa arranged for help from family members to care for her children, so that she could remain silent for a full week. After that, it still wasn’t back to parenting as usual. A vocal conservation program must be followed strictly, in order to allow for optimal healing after surgery. A patient such as Melissa is advised to speak only 5 minutes per hour during the second week after surgery….and those minutes are not consecutive! These time segments are gradually increased over the next few weeks, while voice therapy takes place, until the voice is back to normal functioning. Many of our patients find it helpful to use a text-to-speech app on their phone or iPad, and noisemakers, cell phones, or intercoms to eliminate calling room-to-room when summoning others in the house.
We are happy to report that Melissa came through it all with flying colors, and is back to singing with her band and in church. Certainly there were moments of mild vocal fatigue, and even a little hoarseness when the demands of a heavy gigging schedule led to vocal overuse. Fortunately, her vocal “bounce-back” time is brief. Thanks to Melissa’s strict adherence to the use of our techniques, consistent vocal warm-ups before all singing activities, impeccable vocal hygiene, avoidance of reflux trigger-foods, and elimination of vocal abuses, she is on the right path to full recovery of normal voice.
Let’s follow Melissa on her journey through vocal cord surgery and recovery with post-operative voice therapy. Watch our series of videos, and listen to Melissa’s voice in the different stages of vocal disability and healing.