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Muscle Tension Dysphonia

What is muscle tension dysphonia?

Muscle tension dysphonia is a change in the sound or the feel of your voice due to excessive muscle tension in and around the voice box. This tension prevents the voice from working efficiently. Muscle tension dysphonia is a pattern of muscle use that can develop during laryngitis and remain even after swelling of the vocal cords has gone. It can also be caused by stress and can co-occur with other conditions.

What are the symptoms of muscle tension dysphonia?

The most common symptoms of muscle tension dysphonia include:

  • Voice that sounds rough, hoarse, gravelly or raspy

  • Voice that sounds weak, breathy, airy or is only a whisper

  • Voice that sounds strained, pressed, squeezed, tight or tense

  • Voice that suddenly cuts out, breaks off, changes pitch or fades away

  • Voice that "gives out" or becomes weaker the longer the voice is used

  • Pitch that is too high or too low

  • Difficulty singing notes that used to be easy

  • Pain or tension in the throat when speaking or singing

  • Feeling like the throat is tired when speaking or singing

Muscle Tension Dysphonia Treatment

Treatment for muscle tension dysphonia primarily includes voice therapy with a speech-language pathologist to reduce throat tension and maximize vocal efficiency. You may be asked to pursue treatments that aid in tension release at the same time you are receiving voice therapy, such as massage, acupuncture, psychotherapy or physical therapy.

Your physician may offer other medical or surgical treatments to address any underlying causes for your muscle tension dysphonia. In severe cases, botulinum toxin injections of tense muscles can be used to facilitate relaxation of the muscle tension.

Reviewed by Kristine Teets, M.A., from the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

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