Musicians' Occupational Hazards

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Recent studies have found that professional musicians often suffer from some very real -but very odd- ailments. Here are a few.


The name might sound silly, but according to a study of regular violin and viola players by Dr. Thilo Gambichler of Oldchurch Hospital in London, the friction of the instrument's base against the left side of the neck (for right-handed players) can cause lesions, severe inflammation, and cysts. What's worse, said the study, published in the British medical journal BMC dermatology, it causes lichenification -the development of a patch of thick, leathery skin on the neck, giving it a "bark-like" appearance.


A similar report in the United States cited three female classical guitarists who suffered from traumatic mastitis -swelling of the breast and nipple area- due to prolonged friction from the instrument's body. The condition can strike male players, woo.


Recent medical reports have detailed the dangers of playing Scotland's national instrument. Bagpipes are traditionally made of sheepskin coated with a molasses-like substance called treacle. That, the report said, is the perfect breeding ground for various fungi, such as aspergillus and cryptococcus. Bagpipers can inadvertently inhale fungal spores, which, according to Dr. Robert Sataloff of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, can lead to deadly lung -and even brain- diseases.


Many long-term tuba players develop an allergic reaction to nickel, and ingredient in brass. The allergy can result in dermatitis of the lips and can sometimes develop into chronic eczema. Strictly speaking, the condition can also affect the chin and hands, and can be contracted from any number of brass instruments (but "tuba lips" is more fun to say).

See also: The Coming and Going of Cello Scrotum


The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Fast-Acting Long-Lasting Bathroom Reader.

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I sometimes get calluses on my thumbs from playing my clarinets. I get a callus on a slightly different part of my thumb when I play my bass clarinet a lot.
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I guess those who suffer from "tuba lips" simply need a new mouthpiece. Brass instrument mouthpieces are plated in silver or gold to prevent irritation of the lips, and isn't an issue unless the plating has worn exposing the brass base metal.
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