Singing After Surgery?

February 26, 2014 Surgery

“Doctor, will I be able to sing after surgery?”

blog1image[1]A patient recently came into the office with a new diagnosis of thyroid cancer. She was nervous about her condition, and as we discussed her condition, its surgical treatment and the prognoses and risks associated with her diagnosis and course of treatment, she looked at me and asked:

“Will I be able to sing after surgery?”

“Yes” I replied. “Although it’s possible you won’t be able to, that is highly unlikely. You should be able to sing beautifully after surgery.”
“That’s great” she said. “I’ve never been able to carry a tune at all!”

She smiled, having hit me with one of the oldest doctor jokes in the books. It helped lighten the mood of what had been a very serious discussion.

Thyroid or parathyroid surgery won’t turn you into a professional singer. But having operated on professional singers, members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and those who sing for recreation, worship, or just to liven up a morning shower, I can say that for most patients we can at least return you to your level of singing before the surgery.

The chances of a long term injury to nerves that go to the vocal cords is extremely low. That doesn’t mean you’ll be singing arias in the recovery room.

During surgery, you will have a tube in your throat. That will irritate your throat and voice and will often make things feel sore for a day or two after surgery. Compounding that, I will be dissecting thyroid tissue off not just the nerves to your voice box, but I’ll also be separating and removing thyroid tissue from the cartilage and muscles that make up the framework of the larynx. That can also cause soreness and tightness, often lasting up to, or rarely beyond, a week.

When you speak or sing (or shout or project your voice above its normal pitch or loudness) the larynx slides up and down in your throat. Around 4-6 weeks after surgery, when your incision is feeling firm (part of normal tissue healing), the muscles and other tissues around your larynx will often tighten and make your voice feel constrained during that time period.

Most people regain their normal vocal function without any extra effort or thought. Some are slow to recover, or have a higher level of function they wish to regain.

If your life involves using your singing or speaking voice a lot, you might want to do some simple things to help your voice regain its full function after surgery: massage your neck, gradually increase the intensity, duration, and range of your vocal use in the weeks after surgery, and don’t overuse your voice. If you were a baseball pitcher who had shoulder surgery you wouldn’t start throwing fastballs as soon as the bandages came off. Your voice is an instrument that will require not just careful surgical technique, but also thoughtful rehabilitation, directed by your surgeon.

Dr. Riddle