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Music medicine can be fun!

0 Robert Levine

… although one might need a slightly twisted view of things to find it so. An article in the September 2010 edition of Medical Problems of Performing Musicians shows us how:

…in 1935, trumpeter Louis Armstrong hurt his lips from too much playing and had to lay down his horn for a year. His condition was diagnosed as a rupture of the orbicularis oris muscle and was referred to as “Satchmo’s syndrome.” Other musicians’ ailments soon followed, affecting string, woodwind, brass, and percussion players alike, ascribed to the vagaries of the various musical instruments. But perhaps the envelope was pushed a bit too far by Curtis, who wrote a letter to the BMJ in 1974 describing three cases of cystic mastitis occurring in adolescent girls learning to play classical guitar, presumably from pressure on the breast from the edge of the sound-box, a condition he termed “guitar nipple.”

Enter Dr. Elaine Murphy, at the time a young registrar in psychiatry, and her husband John, a businessman, both avid readers of the BMJ, and both of whom doubted the authenticity of guitar nipple. So they decided to perform a public service by sending their own spoof in to the BMJ that same year, which they entitled “cello scrotum,” claiming to have seen a cellist patient with chronic groin irritation due to long hours of scrotal contact with the vibrating body of his instrument.’ Dr. Murphy later explained, “We cooked all this up after reading this letter about guitar nipple. John used to read the BMJ too, and after dinner one night, I guess after a glass or two of wine, we composed this letter.” To their surprise, the BMJ published the letter, and wire services reported the phenomenon worldwide. Musicians unions in both the United Kingdom and Soviet Union lobbied to have the condition declared an industrial disease. Reportedly, an entire Russian symphony orchestra cello section was afflicted.

Cello scrotum would be referenced at least a dozen times in the peer-reviewed medical literature over the next 35 years, although skeptics questioned how the body of the cello could contact the scrotum if the instrument were properly played…one wag suggested that the affected cellists were moonlighting as chimney-sweeps.

I’m glad it was a hoax; I’d hate to think what disorders the course of such a disease might lead to.

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