Every time you look in the news it seems that there is another singer out with vocal fold problems. Just last week Meghan Trainor had to cancel her tour due to vocal fold issues. Sometimes all they require is some rest, other times they have to resort to more drastic invasive surgical treatments. Some classical voice teachers posit that it’s the lack of technique and though for some singers this may be true, in general that is not what the cause is. http://www.vulture.com/2015/08/surgeon-explains-vocal-cord-injuries.html?mid=fb-share-vulture
In 2008 at a conference for the National Associations of Teachers of Singing (NATS), I took part in a study to assess the vocal folds of voice professionals. The results of the study were surprising in that 86% of the study participants had vocal pathologies, but it didn't interfere with healthy voice production. This is one reason why every professional singer or aspiring professional should get a laryngological evaluation including high-quality strobovideolaryngoscopy when they are healthy and singing well. http://www.vocapedia.info/_Library/JOS_files_Vocapedia/JOS-069-3-2013-301.pdf What really causes the problems for professional singers is not the abnormalities that already exist or the style of singing, but the demands and frequency of performing.
Train Like An Athlete
In sports overuse injuries are well known and talked about - rest and recovery are very important parts of any training program. Vocal athletes need to consider this as well. Opera singers do - performances are spread out with rest days and rehearsals are often sung with a marked voice. The modern contemporary popular music artist is expected to perform day after day with grueling touring schedules, plus the toll of the constant travel can increase stress levels and make healthy eating difficult. Young singers in undergraduate programs also run a risk due to technique not being fully developed and increased vocal use in lessons, masterclasses, choirs, practice, etc.
What can you do about vocal overuse? As with sports training, have an effective training program. There are a number of training cycles involved. One is the overall cycle that takes into account training season, playing season and off-season. A smaller scale cycle could be broken up into 4-week periods with a three-week build followed by a recovery week with a lighter load. Finally we can program a weekly cycle that allows for work days and rest days. Keep in mind that vocal folds and the surrounding muscles are small structures and cannot train for hours on end a day. It’s important to get to know your voice and what the signs of fatigue are. In athletic training, even for intense interval training you should always feel like you still have gas in the tank. You should be able to maintain form and good technique. If that starts to break down then it is time to stop.
The other aspect of any good training program also involves things like making sure you have a good light warm up keeping the intensity low. It sets up your mind and body for the training that is about to happen. Working on all round development. For singing this would involve making sure the whole body is in condition, not just the vocal apparatus. Keep in mind principles of reversibility and maintenance. Reversibility is when training ceases and the body returns to a pre-exercise state. Though a week or two of rest may be a good break anything longer can result in a regression. Most vocal students who take off the whole summer usually experience this. The other principle is maintenance. This can prevent the reversal of your vocal (and bodily) fitness level during the break times (up to 12 weeks at one third the volume).
Stress and diet are also important to keep in mind. Make sure you are eating a healthy diet. I find Shakeology is a great addition and wonderful for traveling. You are always guaranteed one exceptionally healthy meal a day. Take time to distress by having some quiet time doing activities you enjoy (a bath, a walk in the park, meditation, exercise).
As I always stress, singing is a very physical activity and you are a VOCAL ATHLETE. Treat yourself like one and you will find that you will be in better shape than ever (vocally and physically) and less prone to overuse injury.