Strained Vocal Cords

Strained vocal cords is the term for the exhaustion or damage of the muscle bands within the larynx that are responsible for producing sound. There are several reasons behind the problem and it is generally characterized by hoarseness or loss of voice, excessive mucous production, difficulty swallowing and throat and ear discomfort or pain at times.

The vocal cords or vocal folds are composed of two muscle bands or twin white mucous membrane folds positioned horizontally inside the larynx.

In order to produce sound which is described as the human voice, the bands have to vibrate to modulate the airflow coming from the lungs. The vibration is not at random but is controlled by the vagus nerve accordingly when the person is singing, holding his breath, talking or shouting.

The normal action of the vocal cords involves closing in near enough to produce pressure under the larynx that is also called subglottal pressure. When a person produces sound via the larynx, air passes through the spaces in varying amounts thereby producing different sounds and pitches.

Voice pitch and duration of sound produced depend on the frequency, nature, appearance and pressure on the vocal cords.

Causes and Risk Factors for Strained Vocal Cords

Strained vocal cords may result from the following:

– abuse or misuse of voice when inhaling substances, screaming, singing and coughing
smoking causes hardening of the muscle bands resulting to tension
– presence of throat lumps, nodules, tumors , cysts and polyps
– surgery near or at the vocal cords
– throat, thyroid or lung cancer
– hypothyroidism
– aging
– head trauma or neck injury
– cerebrovascular accident or stroke
– multiple sclerosis
Parkinsons disease
– bacterial or viral infection
– gastroesophageal reflux
– chronic asthma, allergy, upper respiratory tract infection, sinusitis, tonsillitis, adenoids
– spasmodic dysphonia and vocal cord paralysis
– psychological trauma

Clinical Manifestations

Individuals with strained vocal cords usually experience raspy or hoarse voice and at times, have total loss of voice ranging from a few hours to a few days. Voice changes are also referred to as dysphonia or aphonia. The pitch of the voice will also become significantly lower and the person will not be able to consistently maintain a steady note for a long time.

At the throat, there may also be feelings of discomfort, mild or moderate pain, rawness, strain and itchiness. Mucus buildup is also very likely when a person has strained vocal cords due to bacterial or viral infection.

Diagnosis of the throat and larynx will indicate more complicated diseases that may have caused the development of strained vocal cords. Some of these include laryngeal papillomatosis, contact ulcers, tumors and cancers. Some people may not show the common signs and symptoms of the disorder and it is only through thorough assessment that the underlying cause can be detected.


Individuals with strained vocal cords should drink a lot of water to reduce tension and inflammation. Proper hydration prevents drying of the throat and clears it of mucus buildup.

Keep alcoholic and caffeinated beverages at a minimum or stop altogether during treatment. Conduct breathing exercises that involve diaphragm control to strengthen the muscle bands. It is important to use these especially when singing or speaking in a loud voice.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables especially those rich in vitamins A,C and E to keep the throat environment clean and healthy. Citrus fruits will also help remove excess mucus.

Exercise will help reduce inflammation in the throat especially if the straining is caused by trauma. Always maintain proper posture when speaking.

Voice therapy aims to improve the structure of the vocal cords through proper breathing and speaking techniques or methods. The vocal muscles will be strengthened with regular voice lessons and modulation. There are also medications for treating strained vocal cords.

Antibiotics and antiviral medications work well to remove mucus and to clean the throat thoroughly. There are also substances like collagen and hyaluronic acid to repair damaged tissues in the area. Surgery or chemotherapy may be needed if the problem stems from cysts, tumors and cancers.

Artificial larynxes are not common for throat cancer patients. For strained vocal cords resulting from psychological conditions, the person may have to undergo behavior modification.


Smoking should be stopped to prevent hardening of the muscle flaps and to completely eliminate dryness of the throat and excessive mucus. Individuals should also make it a habit to consume vitamin-and-mineral rich foods such as oranges, green leafy vegetables and whole grains to enhance their immune system against viruses and bacteria.

Spicy foods should be eaten moderately to avoid gastric reflux that can irritate the vocal cords.

People should drink eight to ten glasses of water daily to keep the vocal cords refreshed and the throat well hydrated for optimum functioning. It is recommended to use inhalants and take other substances with utmost care. Breathe properly and avoid yelling or shouting unnecessarily.

Image: When the intrinsic muscles of the larynx contract, they pull on the arytenoid cartilages, which causes them to pivot. Contraction of the posterior cricoarytenoid muscle, for example, moves the vocal folds apart (abduction), thereby opening the rima glottidis. By contrast, contraction of the lateralcricoarytenoid muscle moves the vocal folds together (adduction), therby closing the rima glottidis.