Some people think of sword swallowing as a magic trick. After all, as with most magic tricks, sword swallowing doesn’t seem like something that should be possible. It can be a little easier to accept the idea that it’s all an illusion than to believe that a person can guide a long piece of metal all the way into his stomach. If you’ve ever watched a sword-swallowing performance, you may have also gotten the impression that the performer is trying to gain the audience’s trust, just like a magician does. He might invite members of the audience to join him on stage to inspect the swords or even to pull them from his mouth.
Several sources support the idea that there’s a trick to sword swallowing. Famed magician and escape artist Harry Houdini wrote about sword swallowing in “The Miracle Mongers, an Expose.” According to Houdini, some of the sword swallowers of his time swallowed metal sheaths before their performances . “Encyclopedia Britannica” online reiterates this idea. It defines sword swallowing as a magic trick and claims that most performers prepare for the event by swallowing a metal tube that’s 17.7-19.7 inches (45-50 centimeters) long and about an inch (25 millimeters) wide.
This whole process takes place in very close proximity to other organs in your body, including your:
- Trachea, or windpipe
- Aorta, the artery that carries blood from your heart toward the rest of your body
- Vena cava, the major veins that return your blood to your heart
- Diaphragm, the sheet-like muscle that moves up and down, allowing you to breathe
A number of other important structures, like blood vessels and lymph nodes also surround your throat, esophagus and stomach. These are the structures that the sword passes by on its way down.
The Dangers of Sword Swallowing
Sword swallowing involves deliberately conditioning your body to do something its defense mechanisms prohibit, so it’s not surprising that it’s a dangerous activity. It’s also not widely studied in the field of medicine, perhaps because there are so few sword swallowers. The results of the most thorough medical study appeared in the British Medical Journal. The study involved the voluntary survey of 110 English-speaking sword swallowers. Forty-six of the 48 performers who responded consented to having their data used in the study. Thirty-three of the respondents included information about their medical histories. From most to least common, the side-effects they experienced from sword swallowing included:
- Throat pain, or sword throat
- Persistent lower chest pain, likely from injury to the esophagus or the diaphragm
- Internal bleeding
- Esophageal perforations, three of which required surgery
- Pleurisy, an inflammation of the lungs
- Pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac that covers and protects the heart
Some respondents described seriously injuring themselves shortly after an unusuall