Intended for healthcare professionals


Sword swallowing uncertainties

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 03 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1080
  1. Brian Witcombe, consultant radiologist (
  1. Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, Gloucester

    Sword swallowing is said to be dangerous. It certainly was in the Middle Ages, when practitioners in Europe were executed as mystics by the Inquisition. Nowadays there may be fewer than 60 practitioners worldwide, but their activity makes up for the small number. Matty “Blade” Henshaw swallowed a total of 3782 swords in 2003, 50 swords were swallowed simultaneously by 19 individuals at a swallowers' convention in 2002, and a belly dancer has swallowed 11 swords at the same time. With all this going on, even if most swords are blunt, medical mishaps may be expected.

    Sword swallowing is not an illusion but, unlike in normal swallowing (when the tongue pushes the bolus up against the palate with the neck in a neutral position), the back of the …

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