Massaging Vocal Chords Back to Life

FRESNO, Calif.

For Leslie Odom, singing is more a way of life than just a hobby.

"We were raised going to concerts and singing in church," Odom told Ivanhoe.

She's got a degree in music, teaches it to school kids and sings in a church group. Music has always been her inspiration.

"I guess I've had some really down times, and it gives me hope," Odom said.

But when Odom had thyroid surgery a few years ago, the music stopped. She couldn't sing more than a note or two and even had to quit her church group.

"Someone who loved music as much as she did, it was hard to see that happen to her," Roseann Norwood, a friend of Odom's, told Ivanhoe.

"It just started to affect me emotionally. I spent a lot of time crying," Odom said.

Doctors said she had muscle tension dysphonia. It happens when muscles around voice box tighten up, causing hoarseness and voice fatigue.

"They'll complain that every time I swallow, I feel like there's something there. I feel like I have to [clear my throat]," Gaelyn Garrett, M.D., professor and medical director of the Vanderbilt Voice Center, told Ivanhoe.

Treatment used to mean speech therapy, but doctors now use a massage designed just for the vocal chords.

"We're applying it directly to the throat, the larynx area," Carey Tomlinson, a physical therapist from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Ivanhoe.

Tomlinson performs a myofascial release. She separates the hyoid bone -- between the chin and neck -- from thyroid cartilage below, allowing the vocal chords to properly align.

A Vanderbilt study says this technique helped two-thirds of patients improve. While it's often uncomfortable and painful, Odom did find her voice again after eight weeks.

"When I started, I couldn't sing, and I couldn't talk for any length of time. Now, I can do both," Odom said.

She's now hitting notes she hasn't touched since she was a teen, and the results are crystal clear.

Dr. Garrett says many patients diagnosed with acid reflux laryngitis actually have muscle tension dysphonia. In her study, 67-percent of those on acid reflux drugs didn't report improvement, but many did benefit from this technique. FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Craig Boerner
National News Director
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
craig.boerner@vanderbilt.edu

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