I really feel for people who have a problem that is very visible to others – a problem affecting the face, or ability to walk, or something else that can feel like it’s on display to other full time. Problems with the vocal cords are another one of these – every time you try and speak to someone, a raspy, low or breathy sound may have a bigger impact on your listener’s attention than the thing you’d actually like to say. I can imagine that not being able to express yourself clearly and reliably must be very frustrating. And if your problems also involve difficulties with swallowing, or coughing, then a whole range of normal everyday activities can become an unwelcome challenge.
What are vocal cord problems and where do they come from?
Vocal cord problems can cause difficulty speaking, hoarseness, coughing and problems with swallowing. Medical diagnoses can include laryngitis, vocal nodules, vocal polyps, and vocal cord paralysis.
Our vocal cords are delicate structures within our necks, so a whole range of causes can cause vocal cord problems, including vigorous exercise, airborne toxins, reflux problems and inflammation in the throat and sinuses. Trauma, whether physical such as near-drowning, choking, or surgical injuries, or emotional, can also leave a big impact on our voices. Women, and teachers, are more likely to suffer vocal cord problems.
Can acupuncture help vocal cord problems?
So, can acupuncture help? Well, as ever, it’s not professional for me to share anectodal stories from my own experience. But, happily, some research has been done in this area.
The evidence base
In 2017 a systematic review was published – systematic reviews are near the top of the evidence pyramid, they are studies of all of the published studies on a topic. The scientists in this case were looking at a range of interventions, including massage and physiotherapy, and for acupuncture they were only able to find one study that had been done so far. Nonetheless, their conclusion was:
“The literature regarding the effectiveness of physiotherapy and complementary therapies was good in both quality and results, indicating that massage, TENS, and acupuncture seem to be effective treatments to reduce voice complaints and improve voice quality, supporting the inclusion of complementary therapies but mostly physiotherapy interventions in the treatment of patients with voice disorders.”a 2017 systematic review on allied health treatments for vocal cord problems
Specifically about acupuncture, they said:
“Yiu et al. conducted a high-quality study … In this RCT [randomised controlled trial], 84 participants with dysphonia were divided in three groups: genuine acupuncture group that received needles in nine voice-related acupoints … A significant improvement in vocal function … was verified in both the genuine and sham acupuncture groups, but not in the no-treatment group. About perceived quality of life, genuine acupuncture groups showed significant results comparing to sham acupuncture group (p = 0.003) and no-treatment group (p = 0.01). No significant difference was found between the no-treatment and sham acupuncture group (p = 0.83). Only the genuine acupuncture group demonstrated a significant reduction in the size of the vocal fold lesions.”
So, one study is only a start for our evidence base, but certainly it’s encouraging. They summed up their findings by saying:
“The literature regarding the effectiveness of physiotherapy and complementary therapies was good in both quality and results. The evidence from the studies included in the review suggest that manual therapy through laryngeal massage and massage of the neck or shoulder girdle is an effective treatment to reduce dysphonia complaints and muscle tension and to improve voice quality. It is important to emphasize that the TENS and acupuncture also presented good results. The knowledge of the relationship between body posture, laryngeal muscles, voice production, and dysphonia is of paramount importance because a transdisciplinary action can optimize evaluation and treatment in order to provide clinically significant benefits to patients with voice problems.”
So, if you’ve been suffering with vocal cord problems, this feels like a really positive message, that there are a number of things that may be able to help you. You don’t necessarily need to feel stuck at your current level of vocal problems. And acupuncture may be one of the things that could be able to help.
Get in touch
If you’d like to give acupuncture a try for your vocal cord problems, just get in touch to get started.
Cardoso R, Meneses RF, Lumini-Oliveira J. The Effectiveness of Physiotherapy and Complementary Therapies on Voice Disorders: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Front Med (Lausanne). 2017 Apr 24;4:45. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2017.00045. PMID: 28484700; PMCID: PMC5401878. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5401878/