A bonesetter is a practitioner of joint manipulation
Joint manipulation
Joint manipulation is a type of passive movement of a skeletal joint. It is usually aimed at one or more 'target' synovial joints with the aim of achieving a therapeutic effect.- Biomechanics of joint manipulation :...

. Before the advent of chiropractor
A Chiropractor, according to the Association of Chiropractic Colleges , "focuses on the relationship between the body's main structures – the skeleton, the muscles and the nerves – and the patient's health. Chiropractors believe that health can be improved and preserved by making adjustments to...

s, osteopaths, and physical therapists, bonesetters were the main providers of this type of treatment. Bonesetters would also reduce joint dislocations and 're-set' bone fractures.

The original spinal adjustment was a variation of a procedure known today as spinal manipulation
Spinal manipulation
Spinal manipulation is a therapeutic intervention performed on spinal articulations which are synovial joints . These articulations in the spine that are amenable to spinal manipulative therapy include the z-joints, the atlanto-occipital, atlanto-axial, lumbosacral, sacroiliac, costotransverse...

. The use of this form of treatment has been documented as far back as Hippocrates
Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles , and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine...

, the ancient Egyptians and Asian cultures, and was carried through the ages by families of bonesetters. The modern form of spinal manipulation techniques have characteristic biomechanical features, and are usually associated with an audible "popping" sound.

Bonesetting in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages development of bonesetters was within a body well regulated by the bonesetters guild
A guild is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society...

, which served as a means of training, disciplining, adjudicating, and mastering its craft. The bonesetters guild records were held in Austria and surrounding towns, and were generally opposite the physicians guild, due to their closeness in cooperation.

The mainstay of the craft was seven-year apprenticeships by boys age 12–17, who lived within guild huts and traveled with master craftsmen to spend time with various teachers. It derived its training from the Roman and Greek "skeleton men", and the ancient Egyptian "men of the hands". They entered university training along with physicians four hundred years before medical practitioners, then known as allopaths. The bonesetters guild was present at the foundation year of the University of Notre Dame.

Bonesetters are known for stipendary, orthopaedis[c], free health care, and the garotte. In the European Middle Ages, the life of an infant was entered by a midwife, but life was deemed to occur at seven days by the physician. If the first son, the physician and bonesetter would examine and confirm life and prosperity on the son, and the father would enter a stipendary of payment to the two healers to deliver to him a healthy son on his seventeenth birthday. The physician and bonesetter would then financially guarantee it with a money back return on all of the stipendary if the son died for any reason or was so deformed he could not carry on the family work to support the aging father.

The best bonesetters were approved by royalty, and would confer the title orthopaedis, which is now orthopaedic, meaning carer of the spine of the baby boy. These bonesetters were able to charge more and held high office in the guild.

The bonesetters provided free health care in the Middle Ages. The bonesetters gave free care to a man's wife and daughters as a courtesy to the community.

Bonesetting in the French and European Revolution

The garotte was given to the bonesetters and physicians in the French and European Revolution, where 5,200 bonesetters were garotted at the same time, as well as 4,800 physicians, as both were political naive middle class crafts.

In 1802, Napoleon discontinued their respective guilds and persecuted their members until 1806. The 'fourth book of the dire of the craft' was entrusted to one body, and the 'six books of constellation' were spirited away to private collectors. There are nine large volume books by the craft in safekeeping today; most of them are written in Greek, Latin, and Gaelic

Bonesetting in later years

In some older Eastern families and communities, bonesetting was learned in conjunction with acupressure / acupuncture as the main healing art and treatment for the remote location and family members. For many years, this type of training was normal practice in these families and communities being passed on from generation to generation. These teachings and uses could be easily found in regular use in the Samurai culture of Japan. This type of ancient formal training has almost completely vanished due to the modern chiropractic / medical boards and certifications. However, there are still a small number of classically trained martial arts practitioners practicing this art in traditional ways today. Other "lay" bonesetters still practice in some parts of the world.

Present day bonesetting in the United Kingdom

Bonesetting involves the bonesetter adjusting the position of the bones in relation to another without the use of anaesthetics and with the absence of contraindications.


Bonesetters practice in the United Kingdom, and some are listed with a voluntary register set-up as a limited company called Unified Bonesetters Ltd. As no legislation has been passed to regulate bonesetters, the title of bonesetter is not protected.

Therapeutic principles

Bonesetters accept the general principles that relief of pain and restoration of function through manipulation of the bones will allow the body as a whole to improve its function of both nerves and arteries.


Bonesetters treat pain and dysfunction and include patient review and self-management in the treatment plan.
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