The history of bonesetting
Source: T. Myers, Anatomy Trains.
Bonesetting is an ancient traditional medicine, which was widely practised in many cultures. In most communities and all over the world there used to be healers who used traditional manipulative procedures to treat musculoskeletal disorders as well as various diseases. These practitioners did not have any medical education, but thanks to skilled observation and careful feeling and with help of precise manipulations they were able to find the causes of the patient's complaints and heal them. Although bone setting in former times was seldom a gentle intervention, it often obtained better results than the methods then employed by the medical profession. Nevertheless, the medical profession has never recognized the bone-setting, because it did not have a scientific basis. However, the American physician Andrew Taylor Still developed in the nineteenth century osteopathy from bonesetting methods. Also, chiropractic has its roots in the bonesetting of the nineteenth century. Thanks to osteopathy and chiropractic we understand nowadays quite well how the bonesetting techniques work. The fascia research of the recent years has shed more light on the mechanisms by which the soft forms of bone setting have an effect on the body. Nowadays bonesetting has disappeared from many countries. However, in Finland it still exists and new bonesetters are trained in an organized way. Of course, knowledge of the contra-indications is part of the training, so that the treatment can be carried out safely. Many of the current bone setters are also practitioners in the regular health care and thus have a basic knowledge of medicine.
Kalevala bonesetting – the principles
There are several forms of bonesetting in Finland. The Kalevala bone setting is named after the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. In the fifteenth song it is described how Lemminkäinen's mother puts the bones of her son back in place. The basic idea behind the Kalevala bone setting is that all symptoms are caused by a disturbed balance in the body. As an example, a leg length discrepancy causes a tilted pelvis. This can result in a spinal curvature, possibly up to the head, which in turn can lead to neck stiffness or headaches. This demonstrates that symptoms can occur far away from their actual cause. The body can be unbalanced in many ways, as illustrated by the sketches on this page. The imbalance disturbs the lymph flow, the blood circulation and the functioning of the nerves. Therefore, the imbalance can also cause symptoms that on the first sight have nothing to do with the locomotor system. Usually the imbalance is functional. That is, it is caused by reversible misalignments in the joints of the limbs and the vertebrae. The misalignment is usually maintained by sustained contraction in muscles and fascia.
Kalevala bone-setting – the treatment
The above point of view is also known from other disciplines, such as osteopathy and Functional Fascial Release. However, the specific feature of Kalavala bonesetting is the soft way of treatment. A Kalevala bonesetter does not “crack”. Practically all joint mobilisations are carried out with the client's own movement. Before a joint is mobilised, the soft tissue that keeps the joint misaligned will be loosened up as much as possible. Also, this tissue relaxation happens without much force and utilizing the client's own movements. In spite of the soft technique, the treatment is very effective. Kalevala bonesetting always starts at the feet and progresses from there up to the head. It is essential to ensure that the whole body is able to adapt to the correction of the misalignments. Otherwise, this correction would not last a long time. For that reason Kalevala bonesetting is always a full body treatment. However, it is impossible to treat the whole body intensively in a reasonable time. An experienced bonesetter is able to estimate which body parts need most of the work and for which a light touch is enough.
Clinical trials have shown that traditional bone setting is at least as effective as or even better than physiotherapy or massage in treating chronic low back pain and neck pain. More information on Kalevala bonesetting is available from the web pages of the Kansanlääkintä association (in Finnish).