Excessive, loud grunting during high-stakes tennis matches has alienated and annoyed some fans. Efforts have been made to ban grunting, or to at least quiet the noise.
But a physician offers another reason for athletes to stop: their health.
Michael Pitman treats many athletes at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, where he directs the Voice and Swallowing Institute. The vocal cords or vocal folds with their five tissue layers are very delicate, he said.
“The top two layers are very supple, and, when we speak, those are the layers that vibrate,” Pitman explained. “When you grunt, the vibrations in there are chaotic and very severe and cause stretching and trauma to the tissue that can result in inflammation, lesions and hoarseness. “
How much damage tennis players are doing to their voice depends on how they grunt, said Pitman.
People who grunt in a more guttural fashion are most at risk.
“If you try that, you can almost feel the vocal folds rumble and the chaos going on in there and understand the trauma,” said Pitman. “Then there’s people who go like ‘uuuh,’ and that grunt is safer, it’s more breathy, like an exhale, less banging of the vocal folds.”
Pitman said the damage to the vocal cords can become permanent when athletes don’t stop grunting. In addition to tennis players, quarterbacks are big grunters who often end up with vocal cord damage, he said.