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How I recovered from muscle tension dysphonia



hey my name is Liz bills and I am a full-time music teacher and a professional singer from Boston Mass for everyone that doesn't know who I am I'm doing this video or vlog or whatever today because I want to talk about my experiences with muscle tension dysphonia and how I'm actually recovering from this disease or illness so whatever you want to call it and I wanted to do this video because I feel like especially when I was struggling a lot or even sometimes I still struggle I would go online and look for recovery stories or how someone overcame this mysterious dysphonia and I couldn't never find them so I wanted to do this video to let people and singers and teachers and voice users know that there's hope and I basically have so not a great talker I have a lot of pain-free days now so it's been quite the journey so I'm just trying to organize my thoughts here so let me tell you my story so I am going to be 32 this month when I was 27 years old I started singing at Berklee College of Music I was in a full time I still am a full time rock and roll band with very intense I love to sing power vocals you know so like stuff like that which is intense it might face it like this and I'm jumping up and down all sweating and then I talk for a living so I'm using my voice like this for children like three four hours a day and so the pain set in this intense burning when I'm talking this intense burning when I'm singing and I had just started teaching so I'm a very quiet person and might not seem that way in this video but I'm very quiet I've talked like this and I've been very very shy my whole life so when I started teaching it was like all of a sudden and I started using my voice all the time and all of a sudden my voice was burning especially in this right side so what I did is I started at Boston Medical Center I went to the auntie there and they scoped me and they said oh you have acid reflux and you're pre polyp which means if you think about your hands if you do a lot of yard work you might have these calluses that actually means you have notes on your voice but I didn't have those I had a blister so that's like before you get the callus I had some blisters on my voice and he basically made me feel like a number like he didn't care about me just his mannerism oh and he was like here you have acid reflux I don't know what you're gonna do you should change what you're doing because you're doing it wrong and I was like okay and he tried to give me acid reflux pills but I really didn't think I had that and I don't like taking medication unless I really need to so you know I just said I'll try the speech therapy and so I hated Boston Medical Center's speech therapy because it was so disorganized I felt like the speech therapist could barely ever schedule me I would see her one week and then it would be four more weeks till I saw her again and I just felt like I was getting nowhere and it was really sucky and so and then my primary care doctor at the time told me oh maybe you have fibromyalgia maybe you should just change careers and I had just met this primary care doctor that day and I was shocked I mean I'm not telling this lady to change her career as a doctor where she went to school for seven years how could I change careers as a singer quite honestly I'd rather kill myself if I'm gonna be brutally honest then stop singing you know I'd rather sing through with pain which I had been doing for years so I was very disappointed at this time about you know the treatment I was getting and I was really losing faith in Western medicine you know so then after that I went to st. Elizabeth's Medical Center and Brighton and then I got scoped again for a second opinion and he's go to me and he said you have acid reflux and quite honestly I burst out crying right in the office I made him feel super uncomfortable and I was like that's not what I have please stop telling me I've asked the Reeboks he gave me the pills I tried him for like a few weeks then I was like I hate taking these pills why don't I change my diet instead so I went vegan I went gluten-free I was food jool journaling I went on vocal rest for weeks and weeks and weeks I taught all of my lessons like this so I would go to a lesson and let me look it up so talk text you type in and if I can find this voice to text say I'm not gonna be able to find it right now they're like all my computer I would be like typing in thanked on a month fast type works I'd be like hi how are you now can you put your hands on metals he cdefg and I would literally go to all of my 30 students and just talk like that and when I went on tour I would talk to my band mates like that when I wasn't thinking of course it was ridiculous but I was you know trying so hard to figure out what was wrong with me on my own none of that stuff worked I think going on vocal arrest really just made it worse you know I went to doctors and got my chest and stomach x-rayed I was put on a table turned upside down they're like oh you are a reflux thing and I was like oh yay we know what the problem is I guess it is reflux but it turns out everyone refluxes so then I was back to square one and then they put me under anesthesia they went down into my stomach and looked around everything's great and I was actually upset by that I'm like well then what's wrong with me so that was my experiences there and now what changed everything was finally I think four years into this pain you know at this point in time I had gotten very used to the pain in the beginning I was very angry very upset I would teach lessons and have so much pain I would be crying at the end of every day just an intense burning inside my throat every gig I went to it was awful like I'd have to run right home after the gig singing was no longer fun talking was no longer fun I had to leave parties because my voice hurts so freakin bad and it is this very lonely thing because a lot of people don't understand this like how can you not talk how can you not socialize how can you not sing you know nobody has voice pain like this and especially doesn't know what it is so it was a very sad sad time but then over the years I started accepting it so the pain was like an old friend they would come in every day to my throat I'd be like okay whatever I'm used to it I started eating like 10-15 cough drops per day as a crutch to get me through the days and as long as I had my coffee ops I would be okay so that was a big thing in my life cough drops so what changed my life was dr. burns and um where is dr. burns dr. burns at it's not Boston Medical Center dr. burns it's where I was born my kid I remember this Mass General Hospital so dr. burns I knew for a long time was a doctor that is one of the best ENT doctors in the world at least I think because his patients consists of Adele she got her vocal surgery there Julie Andrews got her surgeries to try to fix a botched surgery in New York that she had a long time ago which ruined her career cher was there John Mayer Steven Tyler you know when you go into dr. Byrnes office you'll see all of these signed posters and thank-you notes for dr. Byrnes you know saving these amazing singers and really helping them so I was very excited I finally changed my insurance and went to dr. Byrnes which I should have done in the first place and they spoke to me and right away they said you have muscle tension dysphonia and I was like oh my god a diagnosis that is not acid reflux and so the definition of muscle tension dysphonia is it's one of the most common voice disorders it occurs when the muscles around the voice box or larynx are so tight during speaking that the voice box does not work efficiently so hallelujah I'm so happy to have that diagnosis and then they assigned me to a speech therapist who specializes in singing and this speech therapy was drastically different than Boston Medical Center it was very organized they said I had to come every week at the same time and I just felt more special when I went in to see my speech therapist she would ask me a lot of personal questions I felt like a real person like I cared for and listened to which was a huge problem I felt like a lot of the doctors before were just laughing at me or thinking I was making a big deal about nothing not listening to me and so this was much better care you know just high-quality care so I would go in every week and I want to show you my favorite exercise I use a straw of course I come prepared and don't have a straw so pretend I have a straw and so this exercise I use every day I use it with my students and voice lessons and we started retraining my speaking voice so I would blow into the straw and see how vibrating that is if you pretend I have a straw oh hi my name is Liz hmm how are you doing today and I would do this kind of thing I would practice it for 10 20 30 minutes a day sometimes in my lessons I would just be like my kids are young enough to not really care sometimes they would laugh and try to do it too so I'd be like mmm okay now um place your hands on the piano mm-hmm very good job and I would reset my voice and then all of a sudden I was like oh my god I'm not having any I'm not really having pain and so for a while I would just carry around the straw and just be like a crazy person and I didn't want to let go of the straw and you know my speech therapist was like Liz you can't walk around for the rest of your life with the straw I mean I was like okay so you know and then another favorite one I loved was in singing they gave me this one it's a sniff exercise when y11 what when when when when when when when when when when when mom and I would do the scales and then the closure for my own vocal folds was much healthier and it felt easier so those are probably like my two favorite speech therapy exercises and in the straw mmm lalalalala like I could do the straw and then I could sing and it would feel better so I was having a great time and speech therapy but after a few months I still was feeling pain so the therapist was like huh well there's got to be something else wrong here and I was like damn it what could it be and so she was like um maybe you should go to a chiropractor and see if it's muscle related so I went to mark messenger chiropractic who's amazing in Haverhill math and right away he was like you should get an x-ray of your neck and I was like oh yes because other doctors would just laugh at me because I'm young woman and why would i x-ray my neck old people do that or you know people with injuries like car accidents or whatever um so I got the x-ray and he was like oh my gosh you have arthritis in your neck so hallelujah like another diagnosis I'm getting closer and closer to what the hell is going on okay so now we know we have arthritis why do I have arthritis because of the muscle tension so what has happened to my body over the years is my shoulders started rounding forward my back is weak the muscles in the front are tightening up and then it sends a signal to my brain and the brain is saying liz is in pain tense the muscles to protect her and then they tense them and then the signal goes to the brain liz is in pain tense the muscles to protect her more tension so then there's this cycle happening so then I started going to mark messenger three times a week to adjust my joints get them moving again I'm adjust this posture get everything moving and down and back so I'm not rounded forward to break the cycle and so I saw a messenger for like six months three times a week which is exhausting but you do what you gotta do and then the next step was physical therapy so in order to keep you know I need better posture so I was rounding and you know it was no good so then the next step was to you know start doing these cut this kind of work rolling the shoulders back checking the alignment you know standing like superwoman you know stretching for like 10 15 minutes every day stretching out the neck and then physical train physical therapy so strength training so three times a week about I would start you know grabbing like mine these rubber bands and I would pull them back and squeeze my back together pull them back and so I would start to get a strong back which can help support everything and have better alignment or you can do this kind of thing and then squeeze your back and just you know work on really strength training those back muscles and even strength training in the stomach for the lower back and that was the physical side of it so then the next step I had to do which I really didn't want to do was change my workouts so I recovered eating disorder person I had bulimia which I no longer have thank God and I would just always do these intense workouts and I kind of was never able to really give that aspect of it up and that was also contributing to the pain so against my will I started doing yoga I stopped doing the intense like hour runs and all of that and really replaced it with like slow gentle kind practices of breathing of stretching of really self-love like within my workouts and that took me a whole year to start enjoying so this is definitely a was a process but now I love yoga and I quit the YMCA and I joined a yoga studio I do yoga with adriene on YouTube I highly recommend that she's amazing and so I guess and then the next step was you know there's emotional side to like all of this pain and stuff every time I would get stressed I'd start feeling more burning pain so there was an emotional side to this muscle tension dysphonia so then I started going to a therapist and talking about my feelings maybe like being more aware I mean you have tensing muscles which I was and I didn't notice tensing my face kind of like holding it all day so I started seeing a therapist you know letting go of things meditating was like what she would give me as homework to do a lot of deep breathing trying to relax which is very tough for me but you know surprisingly through letting go and relaxing and meditating and doing yoga I was just naturally like feeling healthier I was always worried I would gain weight but I'm honestly thinner I'm like letting go of weight through emotion you know I'm not holding on to this weight anymore so I can't believe it you know like how great it made me feel after you know really trying for a year to change basically my life and how I was doing things okay and so now we're down to the last thing vocal retraining with my vocal coach Aliana deela Gardea in Haverhill maths she's incredible she has a degree at the conservatory in Boston and you know for a while I was like I'm a great singer I know it all that's not the case I had terrible technique I was using my throat for everything screaming up to those notes and just destroying my voice you know singing is athletic but it shouldn't feel like someone like put your voice through like a chainsaw or something by the time you're done singing so I started retraining and retraining is a slow process just like all of this and as Americans we just want that quick fix we want to pill we want a shot we just want to be better and so this is what you know my road recovery that was like the hardest part patience and persistence I just wanted to be better but I had so I started seeing the vocal coach two years ago now and it was just a slow retraining process and an incredible journey and um that was the final piece so let's recap what is healing muscle tension dystonia number one fixing poor posture with alignment checks and strength training so you know going through life more with great posture having a strong back a strong core number two eliminating stress and anxiety from my life through meditation yoga therapy being kind to myself not expecting too much learning how to relax and living a happier and easier lifestyle number three retraining my voice that was a big part of it retraining my singing voice and speaking voice and I think number four we can tack on trying to be happy no matter what so ok sometimes I have pain I can choose to be happy still if I don't have pain I can also be happy because it can be scary to lose the pain and be like I'm feeling so good should I you know feel good because well at last but who cares let's just be happy um and I'm gonna wrap up the video now and I haven't had any coffee ops for a while now honestly still carry them around because I'm afraid of this new feeling of being pain-free like good seems strange but no cough drops tons of pain free days I just spoke for 21 minutes no burning pain maybe a slight burning very very very slight because I haven't warmed up or anything but I'm healing and I didn't think I ever would and you can too if you have muscle attention dysphonia you should really try to go through some of these steps you know like ask yourself is it emotional maybe it's a bunch of things maybe it's my posture maybe I'm expecting too much for myself maybe I have some issues I need to work through maybe I have to retrain my voice you know maybe I have to fight and fight for the right doctor maybe I have to keep searching and never giving up find someone who listens to me you know so there's lots of different things and you can feel free to email me Liz Bill's one at gmail.com if you have any questions and when I talk about this I have a lot of insight been going through five years so there's hope for a muscle tension dysphonia peeps out there it's possible to use your voice for a living a heavy voice user they call them and not have pain to live a good healthy pain-free life I love you and I hope this reaches even just one person and helps

Glenn Chapman

44 Comments

  1. Hey can I ask you something though… what happened to that polyp? Polyps hurt too! Did you get it removed or …… what happend?

  2. One of d best YouTube videos I have ever listened to. Very sensible and resonating. I do have arthritis and my voice has been hoarse for 4 years now and has stayed that way. I will try your steps. Thanks a lot.

  3. Liz…I can’t thank you enough for this. I’m in tears here. I won’t bore you with my story…I just want to give you a virtual hug. I believe you just saved me lots of heartache…and provided me some direction in working through my vocal issues. Sending you love from Delaware.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story! I’m still in my early stages of speech therapy, but I just wanted to mention that if you can’t find a doctor or speech therapist that can correctly diagnose you, come to Dallas, Tx. I was diagnosed the first time I went to the ENT. The area has the best doctors in the country, in my opinion!

  5. I really can't thank you enough for this. I've been going through a similar experience – pain when singing and speaking diagnosed as MTD, tons of cough drops, feeling lost in the medical system, not improving, and feeling alone and demoralized about my hopes to become a singer songwriter. Your video gave me hope, and I thank you for taking the time to make it.

  6. On the millionth video and you’re describing what I’ve been going thru. You’ve given me multiple avenues to pursue. Some things I’ve been recommended have helped and others have not. Thank you. You’re sweet and strong. 🙂

  7. Super video, and very relevant to have all the aspects of the healing because everything is related…. all the best to you and your beautiful voice 🙏❤

  8. Thanks. I was just diagnosed with this 3 days ago. I noticed that my voice wasn't healing fully after I lost it when I got the influenza virus in February. I don't have the pain you talk about, but it does hurt more than it should when I cough. I just lost my voice again a few days ago due to a cold. I'm going to think hard about what you say here. I recognize some of these issues in myself. I used to weigh a lot and rely on intense workouts to try to keep the weight off and even that's a struggle.

    I'm an impressionist and I'm scared this will impede my performing things like Donald Trump, which I'm really on a roll doing. It's hard enough even trying to find people to appreciate me and this just adds to the stress.

  9. Hey! Your story really touched me. I am so thankful you shared this on Youtube! As a singer I've been dealing with similar issues as you described, and watching this I started to wonder if I have MTD myself. I really hope I can fix my problem and be able to sing freely, this is trutly my passion 💚

  10. is anyone else struggling with a pain in their throat and ear? It feels like my ear is clogged, but I clean it all the time and have gone to an ENT as well but they said my eardrum looks perfectly fine.

  11. I literally thought I was the only person to be struggling with this. It's been a year for me now and I notice it getting worse and worse. if anyone wants to talk about this please feel free to ask for my number! I haven't told anyone about the way I've been feeling except for doctors and I get the same answer every time, acid reflux. it would be nice to talk to someone who understands. I hope everyone here finds a solution to their recovery. thank you so much Liz, you're changing lives.

  12. Thanks for sharing Ana, i have SD since i was 19 years old, sometimes it's complicated but I know that just like you other people have overcome it, I will start to practice your advice!

  13. Wow!! This was so helpful! You have given me a lot to work with in my recovery. Your story has given me hope and yes, you’re right about patience. It’s so hard. Even though I have only been like this for almost two months, it does feel hopeless. I feel like I will never see light at the end of the tunnel but this is where I have to put my faith in God and trust Him with my healing process and journey. Again, thank you so much for being so transparent with your journey! God bless you!!!!! 😊

  14. Thank you so, so much for this video Liz! I’m a singer-songwriter YouTube vlogger with MTD for more than two years now. I’ve been through almost ALL that you describe here ( except the pain ) – the loneliness of it, the withdrawing from social interactions, not being understood by people around me, repeated laryngoscopies and EXPENSIVE voice therapies that did nothing, medication for reflux, periods of silence, all of it! Finally the voice therapist gave up and sent me to a shrink who put me on anti depressant/ anti OCD pills for a bit – and I HATE medication, like you – and now that the pills are over I’m going through severe withdrawals on top of the MTD and all the frustration that was already there! It’s a Catch 22 where one is never sure if one is doing everything one can, if one is doing the right thing, by now I shun all situations where I need to talk to people, which makes things even more depressing….it’s just a weird horrible mess that I can’t seem to work my way out of! I’ve kinda given up on doctors now – I’m working on meditation and breathing and trying to find some solution for this online, something that won’t bankrupt me any more than all the useless treatment so far already has. Listening to your video at least made me feel like I’m not alone, for a bit. So thank you for that ❤️

  15. Thank you for this!! I have muscle tension and spasmodic dysphonia. It’s sometimes very lonely as I know you understand. I love people and wish i could speak freely like i used to. I appreciate your story and your tips!!

  16. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I'M GOING THROUGH NOW!!! It's so annoying because I feel like I'm the only one in the world that has this problem and everyone reacts as though it's all in my head and problems like this don't exist (even the doctors, ugh). Thanks so much for sharing your story.

    I gave up singing (and teaching) years ago because of this, but it's still hurting my relationships with people because it's at he point where I can barely have good conversations with people anymore without pain.

    I'm gonna try some of the things you mentioned (improving posture, more yoga and less strenuous cardio…). Still need to find a good, affordable speech therapist though… The free one I've been referred to by my ENT just doesn't have time for me…

  17. Can't find any better word than thank you. I'm an announcer in Korea. After standing painful time, delivering news for hours in-a-row from night to day, suddenly I found myself not able to make sounds as usual. I repeated almost the same story of yours afterward, being diagnosed with acid reflux, only to find out none of the medication works. However, my coworkers didn't take my symptom seriously as voice problem was that much common in this career and most of them just passed by as time goes on. My stress and illness was treated normal rite of passage, when quite contrarily I felt I was risking my whole job. Now, I finally feel I'm in the right track. I'm fully ready to try hard and come over the problem, thanks so much to your wonderful video 🙂

  18. Hello😊
    Ma'am, help me. I'm singer. I sang very well , but last year, since September, I have a big problem. My voice is open. I can sing deeper and higher notes, but it's monotonous. I have lost the flexibility in my voice. Try to avoid it.But my throat is not active, it's hard for me to shake my voice.I've lost a dynamic side of my voice. What's the reason? Sometimes I feel a sore throat after singing. Feeling swollen from the inside. Doctors have said nothing has happened after the throat check. Sir, I'm very upset about this.I had a voice rest, but after that my throat was very hurt when I spoke with a sore throat.
    is this muscle tension dysphonia? Or another thing? i hope your kindly answer can you help me ? I am a Sri Lankan citizen. There for I can not find you. explain to me what needs to be done.

  19. This is really helpful. I'm having a similar issue (thankfully with very little pain), but I just recently I realized how tense my shoulders have been, and that it's related to the same tension that's affecting my voice. I love that straw warmup too.

  20. Thank you so much for uploading this! It gives me at least a little hope since I'm in the exact same situation as you were – singing and teaching is my LIFE and I had to quit both a few months ago because my voice just wouldn't work and I got super annoying cramps in my larynx! I don't know what to do, I feel like I've lost my whole life – I can't even meet my friends without being afraid of this pain in my throat that just won't go away even though I'm in voice therapy for a couple of months now (I'm using LaxVox – kind of a giant silicon-straw – it helps a little, but only temporary, unfortunately)! You just motivated me to let me get my neck/back checked and maybe start a chiro-therapy/yoga/… because I also never had the best position when sitting or standing.
    May I ask how you're doing at the moment? Did you fully recover by now? When were you able to sing again? I've lost 2 whole octaves and using the one that's left makes me so sore, I haven't sang a single song for the last 3 months, it SUCKS!
    Best wishes and again: THANK YOU 🤗

  21. Hey AnalogueHeart, do you think you could post some of the exercises you used to correct your posture? Thanks for all your MTD videos, they have been super helpful, I’m subbing!

  22. Not really sure if I have this but I do seem to have an extreme problem with my muscles and constant tearing and tension in the muscles of the neck, pelvis, stomach, and it feels heavy when I'm standing against gravity and just like she said it "automatically tenses" "guarding against pain" and but then the muscles don't relax properly and naturally in my body :((( I need full restoration miracle

  23. this is so useful! i have noticed throughout my whole life that my shoulder round over and go forward just like yours did. my voice also hurt after a few minutes of straight speaking and singing. you're a lifesaver <3

  24. Thank you for sharing this. I was just diagnosed with MTD, and I think the most shocking part about it is that it’s stress induced. I’m literally so stressed that I’m choking myself! Looking forward to using these techniques, and therapy, to get my voice back!

  25. I love you too dear for your kind heart. Empathy it is really rare to feel. I got it from you. Thank you again.

  26. Hello.
    How are you
    I need your help if you can thank you .
    My friend he has a problem with he's voice and I hope we can contact thank you

  27. literally everything you're saying i've gone through, not enough pain… but it SUCKS. sometimes you just feel like ending your life or wanting to be FREE like everyone else

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