LARYNGEAL MASSAGE — Using laryngeal massage to manually manipulate and reposition the larynx, speech therapist Megan Breeze works with Ricky Marshall to help him with his voice problem which stems from muscle tension and breathing problems due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. The combination of massage and vocal exercises has helped Ricky be able to speak more clearly and with less effort. (Photo submitted)

Speech therapy offers help with much more than just pronunciation

Published Jun 18, 2018 at 4:00pm

Ricky Marshall was having trouble making his voice heard. Because he suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), he sometimes did not have enough breath to speak clearly. The inability to be understood caused a lot of stress and tension for him, which ultimately made his speaking problems even worse. Literally at a loss for words, he decided to see his doctor.

After an evaluation by an ear, nose and throat doctor and a laryngoscopy, a scope procedure to allow visual examination below the back of the throat, it was reported that there was no physical cause for his speaking problems. He was diagnosed with muscle tension dysphonia, a voice disorder that is typically behavior driven.  

Because of his COPD, he felt he did not have enough air to speak clearly, which caused him to strain the muscles in his throat to try to force more air out. The result was a hoarse and breathy vocal quality.  

His doctor referred him to speech therapy, available through Rome Memorial Hospital’s out-patient therapy department. Speech therapist Megan Breeze evaluated Ricky’s speech problem.

“When Ricky was evaluated, he produced a consistent hoarse and breathy vocal quality, with visible straining of his neck muscles when he was trying to talk,” she said. “He was frustrated because it was hard for him to be heard clearly and he became exhausted just from talking because he was constantly straining his neck muscles to speak. As a result, he started saying less and less.”

Marshall has been attending speech therapy sessions for about two months. His course of therapy involves laryngeal massage, which is a technique to manually manipulate and reposition his larynx, and vocal exercises to promote better voice use and reduce muscle tension while speaking.  

“Ricky has responded well to therapy thus far and is currently managing to focus on breath support through breathing exercises, diaphragmatic breathing, practicing appropriate breaks for breathing during conversations, breath conservation, and appropriate conversational speech pitch,” Breeze said. She explained that having Ricky speak with a slightly higher pitch to his voice prevents him from having a harsh sounding voice from glottal fry. Proper breath support, improved speaking pitch, and reduced muscle tension will produce a more clear voice.  

“Within the first two sessions, Ricky and his family observed an improvement in his vocal quality and an increased confidence with communicating,” she said.

“Before I started speech therapy, I was really having a hard time being able to talk at all,” Marshall said. “Now I am able to have conversations with my wife. I have learned how to manage my breathing and voice so it is easier for me to talk and be understood.”

The Speech Therapists at Rome Memorial Hospital’s out-patient therapy department treat a variety of speech disorders including, speech production, language, cognition, voice, swallowing, and stuttering. In addition, many patients with speech problems feel frustrated, and may be embarrassed, depressed and/or feel isolated depending on their disorder, so most speech therapy also consists of a form of counseling to help with these feelings.

“I would definitely recommend speech therapy to anyone with a speech problem,” Marshall said. “It has really helped me.”