What is Muscle Tension Dysphonia?
By Jessica Bristol, Speech-Language Pathologist
Dysphonia, the medical word used to describe a voice disorder, is associated with a number of different causes or underlying conditions. Muscle tension dysphonia (MTD), a relatively common voice diagnosis treated by speech-language pathologists, refers to a disordered voice in the absence of neurological or structural causes. MTD is highly variable, and sufferers tend to report differing acoustic, aerodynamic, auditory-perceptual and laryngeal symptoms, most commonly: odynophonia (pain with speaking), vocal fatigue, globus sensation (a lump in the throat), dyspnea when speaking (shortness of breath), hoarse vocal quality, breathy vocal quality and reduced pitch range, though the list of reported symptoms is lengthy.
There tend to be other physical and psychological manifestations in people experiencing MTD, including tensed floor of mouth muscles, a tight abdomen on the inhale, as well as a reported history of anxiety and/or depression, or simply introversion. Interestingly, voice box muscles are considered stress responders and demonstrate increased activity in times of heightened stress. Ultimately, it is now believed that physiological, psychological and social factors contribute to the development of MTD. In fact, some clinicians and researchers associate MTD with irritable larynx syndrome (click here to learn more about ILS). Many professionals in stressful fields of work who frequently use their voices throughout the day report symptoms of MTD.
Thankfully, there are a number of evidence-based voice therapy approaches that have been shown to be effective in the treatment of MTD. As with any voice disorder, it is appropriate to rule out or treat underlying medical conditions before behavioural intervention can be provided by a speech-language pathologist. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of a voice disorder, or have been diagnosed with MTD by an otolaryngologist, please reach out for a voice assessment!