Why Your Throat Hurts When You Sing for a Long Time

by | Dec 7, 2018 | Voice

Have you ever sung for a long time, using the best technique you can muster, and still find that your throat hurts after a while? A lot of singers will assume that they’re singing “incorrectly” when they reach this point. Well good news, my friends. Your voice can feel worn out without meaning that your technique is poor or that you’ve suffered vocal trauma. Here’s what’s going on.

Singing is a Physical Exercise

Think of singing in terms of physical exercise. You use a ton of different muscles when you sing—-ones that are literally part of your vocal folds (your vocalis), others that manipulate the surrounding structures (lifting and lowering your larynx, thinning out your vocal folds, lifting your soft palate, among many others). You also use lots of muscles in your torso to facilitate breath. As with any exercise, your muscles (and sometimes even your attention span and emotional resilience) can begin to wear out after a while, and that’s when your body starts to overcompensate with less healthy alternatives (over-pushing, clenching, or constricting the wrong muscles in your throat—-specifically your false vocal folds). It doesn’t mean that you were using poor technique the whole time—just that you’ve hit your healthy limit for that session.

What Should You Do When Your Throat Starts to Hurt?

When your throat starts to hurt, it means it’s probably time to back off and let your muscles recover. Your body needs time to heal. Over time, if you’re working with healthy technique and doing vocal exercises correctly, you’ll probably find that you can sing for longer sessions without wearing out, because as with other exercise, you start to build stamina by developing good muscle memory and using your vocal structures and breath more efficiently.

How do You Know if You’ve Suffered Vocal Trauma?

It’s important to be able to distinguish between muscle ache and vocal trauma. Your muscles can ache without it having anything to do with vocal trauma (muscles attached to your soft palate, nowhere near your vocal folds, can get tired, for example). If you have a scratch, tickle, or cough in your throat, on the other hand, it’s a sign that the discomfort is located at the level of your vocal folds, and that’s when it’s time to take a break. If that scratch, tickle or cough persists for a long time and doesn’t take care of itself, it’s best that you see an ENT to get checked.

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