Richard III may have gone to Rack and ruin

Posted by er134 at Apr 19, 2013 10:40 AM |
Richard III may have gone through very painful treatments for his spinal deformity

The kinds of scoliosis treatments available at the time Richard III was alive have been investigated by a researcher from the University’s School of English.

Dr Mary Ann Lund, (pictured) who has a special interest in medicine in history,  says some of the treatments for scoliosis practised in the late medieval period would have themselves caused people with the condition a lot of anguish.

The remains of Richard III discovered by University of Leicester archaeologists revealed that the King suffered from severe scoliosis, which he probably developed in early adolescence. Scoliosis – a lateral or side-to-side curvature of the spine – can be a very painful condition to live with.

Among the “cures” practised was traction – the same principle on which “the Rack” worked as an instrument of torture.

The patient would be tied under the armpits and round the legs. The ropes were then pulled at either end, often on a wooden roller, to stretch the patient’s spine.

The treatment would probably have only been available to those who could afford it.

Dr Lund charted the influence of Greek philosopher Hippocrates – who developed early prototype methods of dealing with spinal disorders – to the 11th century Persian polymath Avicenna.

Avicenna’s treatises on medicine and philosophy were highly regarded in Medieval Europe. His theories on using traction in scoliosis treatment would have been widely read and practised by doctors in Richard III’s lifetime.

Avicenna also advocated the massage techniques practised in Turkish baths, and herbal applications, as treatments for back disorders.  In the longer term, patients might wear a long piece of wood or metal in an attempt to straighten their back.

You can hear more from Dr Sarah Knight and Dr Mary Ann Lund in our podcast below.

  • The Search for Richard III was led by the University of Leicester, working with Leicester City Council, in association with the Richard III Society.

Catch an interview with Dr Lund in LiveScience here

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