People whose voices are vital to their professions -- including singers, teachers, politicians, broadcasters and actors -- can injure their voices, just as athletes can injure their muscles.
When athletes are injured, they should stop participating in the sport that caused the injury. They should return to that sport only when they can exercise without pain.
Similarly, voice professionals should rest their injured throat tissue by not talking or singing for a few days. Ideally, they should be able to whisper. But a study conducted at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and Oberlin College showed that whispering is more harmful than using the spoken voice; it causes the vocal cords to close with greater force.
Your voice box sits on top of the tube that carries air to and from the lungs. The box contains sliding doors that let air in and out, vocal cords where the doors come together and muscles that move the doors.
Most voice injuries occur at the edges of the vocal cords. Singing and talking loudly can injure the vocal cords by slamming the edges against each other. The same thing happens when most people whisper, whistle or clear their throats. Injured singers or public speakers should totally rest their voices. If they don't, they may suffer long-term voice damage.
An injured voice should not be treated with antihistamines, such as benedryl or chlortrimeton, because they can dry out and crack the respiratory linings. However, decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, can improve voice quality by reducing swelling.
Humidifying the air, especially when the heat is on, coats the throat to help prevent cracking. Non-prescription vaporizing aerosols do not hasten healing. A little warm tea with honey, as well as lozenges, can help coat the throat and relieve some discomfort.
Q. Will stretching make me more flexible?
A. If done slowly and deliberately, stretching can improve your flexibility.
One form of stretching -- ballistic stretching -- involves quick, jerky, bouncing movements. It's dangerous because it can place too much tension on muscles.
Ballistic stretching can cause injury because it activates your involuntary stretch reflex, contracting the muscle you are trying to relax.
Passive stretching, on the other hand, stretches a muscle group by using an external force to do the work. For example, you may have a friend push your bent knees toward your shoulders while you lie on your back. Passive stretching can improve your flexibility, but you must avoid overstretching.
The safest, most effective form of stretching is static stretching. It involves slow, deliberate stretching until you feel a tightness in the muscle, stopping before you feel pain. You need to hold a static stretch for at least 10 seconds.
Warm your muscles before stretching by jogging slowly or riding a stationary bike for a few minutes. Warm muscles are less likely than cold muscles to tear during exercise. Warm muscles that have been stretched are even less likely to tear.
Q. My brother eats a lot of carbohydrate-rich foods before he runs in a race. Why?
A. Many athletes follow a diet and exercise regimen called "carbohydrate loading" to increase their endurance for competition. But it has not been scientifically proven that carbohydrate loading works any better at increasing endurance than simply stopping training three days prior to a competitive event.
Sugar and fat are stored inside the muscle cells to be used as fuel during exercise. The more sugar, known as glycogen, you can store in a muscle before you exercise, the longer you can work that muscle during exercise. When a muscle runs out of glycogen, it hurts and becomes very difficult to coordinate.
Carbohydrate loading is done by exercising long and hard one week before competition to use up the stored glycogen. For the next three days, the athlete eats very few carbohydrates. For the last three days, the athlete eats regular meals plus extra carbohydrates -- pastries, bread, fruit, pasta and vegetables.
Several studies show trained athletes can load their muscles maximally with glycogen just by canceling their workouts for three days and by eating a little extra food. Exhaustive exercise before competition will not increase their endurance beyond that point.
Carbohydrate loading also will not benefit exercisers unless they are highly conditioned. Eating extra carbohydrates does cause extra glycogen to be stored in the muscles -- but only if certain enzymes in the muscles are primed by regular, hard exercise. Non-competitive, casual exercisers who practice carbohydrate loading will merely store more fat.
Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.