What Does a Bonesetter Do?

A bonesetter works with bones to treat musculoskeletal problems like fractures and dislocations. Traditional bonesetting is an example of lay medical practice, in which people are hired without formal training or certification. It has been largely replaced more formalized medical traditions in many parts of the world. In some parts of the world, particularly in the developing world, there is still a tradition of training and using bonesetters.

The origins of this practice can be traced back thousands of years. As evidenced a variety of works of art and scholarship from these cultures, ancient China, Greece, and Egypt all incorporated bonesetters into their medical traditions. In parts of Latin America, similar customs exist. A bonesetter was traditionally apprenticed to a working practitioner or learned the craft from a family member.

A more formal bonesetter’s guild arose in Europe during the Middle Ages. In order to work, apprentices had to complete a set amount of training under supervision. They could adjust people’s spines, assess people with bone disorders, and treat injuries like fractures. Apprentices, on the other hand, did not have full privileges as surgeons or physicians, which were two distinct guilds at the time.

In many parts of the world, this practice has become obsolete due to medical advancements. A chiropractor, massage therapist, or osteopathic doctor can help patients who are interested in manipulative therapy. An orthopedic surgeon or a general practitioner usually treats fractures and dislocations. These procedures are regulated, and include training requirements to reduce the risk of patient complications; for example, fractures must be carefully managed to avoid infection and nerve damage.

A bonesetter may be used in remote communities and some parts of developing countries for basic medical needs involving the musculoskeletal system. A bonesetter’s level of training and experience may vary. Some take part in government-sponsored and other agency-sponsored programs to improve the quality of care they can provide receiving training in topics such as basic infection control and fracture management. Because of their lack of knowledge and experience, others may have poor patient outcomes.

Apprentices can either learn from an experienced bonesetter attending to patients and gradually performing procedures under supervision, or they can learn on their own. Bonesetting may be linked to traditional religious and cultural practices in some communities, and it can be preserved as a cultural practice. Some people may seek health care from these lay practitioners, while others may prefer to seek it from professionals with more experience and training.