Well aligned | Staying vocal about neck injuries in sport

A much lesser known type of injury that can occur in sport, in particular contact sports is injury to the larynx or voice box.
A much lesser known type of injury that can occur in sport, in particular contact sports is injury to the larynx or voice box.

With the winter sports season set to kick off, physiotherapy clinics in the region gear up for the typical influx of ankle, knee and hamstring injuries.

There has been plenty of preseason preparation that players can undertake to minimise these typical musculoskeletal injuries. Once injuries occur, timely assessment and treatment of injuries hopefully assist players back onto the field as soon as possible.

A much lesser known type of injury that can occur in sport, in particular contact sports is injury to the larynx or voice box. This can have significant impact on a player’s ability to speak and swallow normally. Unfortunately with head high tackles around the neck or direct trauma that can occur such as an elbow to the front of the throat, the delicate structures in the vocal tract can be damaged.

The vocal tract consists of the soft tissues structures that assist in the production of voice. Air moves from the lungs through the trachea into the larynx where the vocal cords open and close allowing the production of sound.

The larynx is a complex structure of protective cartilages, muscles and supportive bony structures. Although it is relatively protected by the strong shelf of the jaw above and the collar bones and sternum below, a high tackle around the neck or a direct blow can cause significant injury. Even cyclists can incur injury to this area by falling forward onto the handle bars in a collision.

Injuries to this region can be serious with fractures to the cartilage structures, haemorrhage in the larynx and in some cases can be life threatening with airway blockage occurring. Immediate difficulty in breathing, swallowing and speaking requires urgent medical assessment to rule out serious injury.

The relatively “minor” injuries may initially just result in discomfort, effortful swallowing and a husky voice. However these issues can linger and become chronic and impact on communication. If a player continues to experience ongoing issues a thorough assessment of the laryngeal structures is needed.  Often, however, direct injury to the musculoskeletal structures that support the larynx can result in spasm of some muscles and weakness of others resulting in abnormal vocal quality. As with any other musculoskeletal injuries, assessment and treatment by a physiotherapist experienced in this area along with a speech pathologist can assist in restoring normal voice. So don’t stay silent about ongoing voice issues after a neck injury in sport. Early treatment can get you back to calling out for the ball from your teammates on game day.