Why you need your pelvic floor to sing

By Claire Dunn

Are you a singer? The kind who sings in the car at the top of your lungs (like one of our physios – Pip)? Or maybe you sing in a community choir or something more serious?

My husband is a musician and the professional female singers, wind and brass players around him are increasingly reaching out for physio advice about recovering from childbirth. The singers I have treated sometimes report that they can’t get as much breath behind the voice, as if their lung capacity and control over the air flow has changed after carrying and giving birth to a baby.

In one sense, these women are right. Anyone who’s been pregnant is familiar with that delightful end-of-pregnancy breathlessness.

The diaphragm is a muscle that can be conditioned and trained in specific skills. Singers (and other musicians who need to blow air – into a flute, saxophone, trumpet etc.) can use the diaphragm to control the amount of air that is drawn into the lungs, and to modify the speed of the air travelling out through the throat and mouth. They also use more superficial muscles in the neck and tummy to provide extra control or force when needed.

During pregnancy, all the tummy muscles are stretched ‘to the max.’ The diaphragm is prevented from making its usual up-and-down movement at the base of your ribcage – like a parachute being turned one way and then the other. The muscle fibres are held in a shortened position, like being in a cast. And just like an arm of leg coming out of a cast, the postnatal diaphragm can be weak and floppy, or restricted and tight.

And what does the pelvic floor have to do with singing? The diaphragm, at the base of your lungs, doesn’t work as well without dynamic support from the pelvic floor muscles, at the base of your pelvis. If the pelvic floor is too tight or too floppy and weak, it’s much harder for the diaphragm to generate enough pressure change inside the lungs to get air in, and to provide steady control over the expiratory airflow.

So if you love singing, whether in public or exclusively to get your kids to sleep, and you have noticed that it doesn’t feel ‘right’ since you had your baby or babies, we would love to hear from you. Sometimes you just need some guidance about reconditioning the diaphragm, or rebalancing your pelvic floor muscles to get you back in the groove.

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