How Louis Armstrong's Lips Were Affected By His Playing Style

Lots of people throw themselves so fully into their work that their physical well-being suffers. For example, the term "workaholic" describes someone who is literally addicted to work, in much the same way that an alcoholic is addicted to his drug of choice, and with similar consequences. Likewise, professional athletes often end their careers with injuries that bedevil them for the rest of their lives. These wounds can be anything from an acute injury, like a broken knee that causes pain for decades, to a cumulative set of injuries, such as repeated blows to the head that cause neurological damage.

Musicians, in fact, are not immune to work-related injuries — both acute and cumulative. And one man who is a textbook example, in an almost literal sense, is jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong. As reported by History, the New Orleans native gave it all in every performance, and even as his career and age began to take their toll on his physical health, he continued to perform. The result of his tenacity was a lasting legacy in the world of jazz, as well as a nasty facial injury that, when discussed in medical circles, bears his name.

Louis Armstrong basically destroyed his own lips and got an injury named after him

It takes a lot to get an injury that's either so gruesome or so niche, that it's named after you. But Louis Armstrong pulled it off.

As History reports, "Satchmo," as he was sometimes called, put his lips to his trumpet and pursed them into awkward contortions while blowing air through them — the same way every trumpeter does. Armstrong, however, did this night after night, year after year, decade after decade. What's more, he did it fervently and enthusiastically, often hitting high notes that require extra effort.

The toll it took on his mouth and lips was evident. More than once he split his lips open, and he developed hard callouses that he sometimes cut off himself with a razor blade. A contemporary even described his lips as "as hard as a piece of wood."

In fact, the matter of lip injuries bedeviling trumpet players isn't limited to Armstrong and his unorthodox career. It's actually not an uncommon condition, and as Clinic Planas reports, it even has a name: "Satchmo's Syndrome," or more formally, "Rupture of the Orbicularis Oris in Trumpet Players." According to the clinic, it affects players of all instruments that require blowing and pursed lips and has led to more than one early retirement.