Pain Management in 4/4

By Dana

Sometimes you receive unexpected results from treatment. That happened to me a few years ago, when my ENT doctor prescribed voice therapy. I went for the first appointment thinking it’d be similar to physical therapy–exercises followed by a home program. And it was, more or less, until the therapist tested my high range.

She turned to me and said, “Have you ever done any singing?”

“Oh, no. I tried out as a kid, and they said I didn’t have any talent.”

“Well, I don’t agree. Once you’re finished therapy, I see no reason why you couldn’t study voice if you want to.”

It seemed like a pipe dream to start singing in middle age. There was the added complication of my health issues–fibromyalgia, migraines, chronic neck/shoulder pain, TMJ. But, thanks to her encouragement, I began taking voice lessons and music classes. Over the years, I’ve been part of church choirs, choruses, and holiday productions. It’s been a joy, every minute of it.

Singing helps me manage my pain conditions and adds to my sense of well-being. Here are four reasons why:

1. Focus On Breathing:

Basically, the voice is a wind instrument. Singing and breathing are closely related. Calm breaths from the diaphragm are needed to sing well. Managing your breath while singing helps with consistency in performance.

Deep breathing has long been recognized as a tool in the management of chronic pain. It can help bring on relaxation, interrupting the vicious circle of pain and tension so familiar to patients.

The breathing habits I learned in voice tended to make my breathing exercises for pain more effective.

2. Reminders To Hydrate:

Staying hydrated keeps the vocal cords limber, which means better singing and less fatigue.

Before singing, I kept promising doctors to drink more water and never quite got around to it. I discovered early, and the hard way, that singing when your throat feels dry is a terrible idea.

When I go to practices now, my music is in one hand and my water bottle in the other. I work to stay hydrated, and the results are worth the effort.

3. New Horizons:

Chronic pain conditions have a way of narrowing your focus. Life can seem like a treadmill of doctor’s appointments, therapeutic treatments, and recovery from pain spikes. I never liked treadmills, not even during my pre-fibro days as a gym rat.

Singing helps remind me there is life outside of medical buildings. It gives me a new world to explore, new people to meet, new stories to find. Of course, there have been challenges, especially at the beginning.

I knew how to read music, but not much else. Somehow, rhythm had to make its way into my middle-aged brain. Singing in choirs meant learning, and quickly, how to sing in languages I’d never studied, like Latin and German. Thank goodness I was able to sing under fabulous directors and study with caring, supportive teachers.

4. Community:

So often, chronic pain makes patients feel isolated. Taking part in a group project can go a long way toward fighting these feelings. A couple of days ago, I sang in a production of Handel’s Messiah for a local church. I didn’t do that as a pain patient. I did it as part of a musical community formed to bring Handel’s work to life. Some people worked behind the scenes, coordinating the hundreds of details necessary to bring off a production of this kind. On the night of the production, the director led the soloists, musicians, and vocal sections to create absolutely glorious music.

I’m going to close by repeating advice given to me by singer Marni Nixon, whom I met when buying a copy of her autobiography. Most of the other people in line were much-younger voice students. I surprised myself by blurting out the details of my late-in-life decision to pursue singing and the discomfort I felt next to those voice students.

She touched my hand and said, “Don’t worry about them. Go out there and sing for yourself.”

I’ve found that to be good advice in more than just music.

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