Dear Dr. Jahn,
Is getting a sore throat after singing something singers just have to live with?
The short answer is a resounding No! Feeling pain in your throat or neck after singing is a warning that you are doing something that is technically not right. While some degree of general fatigue, vocal fatigue, even a little bit of hoarseness may occur – especially after strenuous singing – you really should not experience pain if you are singing correctly.
A sore throat after singing is an indication that you are singing with excessive tension, and means that the muscles in the throat, those moving the vocal folds and positioning the larynx in the neck, are straining and in a cramped state. Compare this to clenching your fist tightly, and holding it in that position for a minute. While intermittent contraction of any muscle (including the muscles of the throat) is natural, prolonged contraction causes pain. But the complete answer is not that simple.
While I would tell classical singers with post-singing discomfort that they are not using the correct technique, and are attempting to get volume and projection from squeezing instead of supporting the voice from below, I also realize that for other genres, such as rock, belt, gospel, or rhythm and blues, that squeezed and strained sound is exactly what you may be looking for.
Several years ago I was taking care of some of the cast members of Miss Saigon, who complained that the music was written so that it would be painful to sing, in order to convey how the girls were suffering. I am certainly not suggesting that you sing musical theater, rock or blues in an operatic voice.
So, what is the solution? Always sing mindfully: be aware of what you are doing technically at all times. Use the pushed, squeezed, strained voice judiciously, as you would use spice in your cooking. Use it to maximal effect when necessary, but your reset position should always be a well supported and un-strained voice, where power and projection come from the abdomen and chest, rather than the constrictor muscles of the pharynx and larynx.
-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)
This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.
Dr. Jahn is an internationally renowned otolaryngologist based in Manhattan with a sub-specialty interest in the professional voice. His practice includes classical and popular singers. He holds academic appointments at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He is Medical Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and former Director of Medical Services at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dr. Jahn has published several books for vocalists, including “Vocal Heath for Singers” (Singdaptive) and “The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health” (Oxford University Press).