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Instinctive sleeping and resting postures: an anthropological and zoological approach to treatment of low back and joint pain

PainSci » bibliography » Tetley 2000
Tags: etiology, sleep, biomechanics, back pain, pro, pain problems, spine

Two articles on PainSci cite Tetley 2000: 1. Complete Guide to Low Back Pain2. 6 Main Causes of Morning Back Pain

PainSci commentary on Tetley 2000: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

Could “paleo sleeping” help aches and pains? This short, bizarre old paper in the British Medical Journal offers some interesting raw data about “instinctive” sleeping postures in primates. Unfortunately, the author’s interpretation is so grandiose and silly that I have to mostly just roll my eyes at it. From the introduction:

You probably do not know that nature has provided an automatic manipulator to correct most spinal and peripheral joint lesions in primates. In common with millions of other so called civilised people you suffer unnecessarily from musculoskeletal problems and are discouraged about how to treat the exponential rise in low back pain throughout the developed world.

That’s mighty big talk! All you have to do is sleep on the ground, and all your body pain will be solved! Sheesh.

The whole thing is a classic example of wishful thinking based on romanticizing “primitive” and “natural” lifestyles. Specifically, I think the premise that primitive people have fewer musculoskeletal complaints at all — let alone that it’s due to sleeping postures — is undoubtedly the product of confirmation bias and not remotely reliable. It could be true, but it probably isn’t. It’s much more likely that it’s just what western observers see because it’s what they want to believe. The extremely poor reasoning on display in this article does no favours to the hypothesis.

And, oh dear, there are way too many references for “correcting” joints! What does that even mean? The absurdity peaked for me with this statement:

The Achilles tendon of the leading foot can be inserted in the gap between the big toe and the first lesser toe to help correct a bunion.

What utter bollocks! This is the hubris of structuralism at its worst.

~ Paul Ingraham

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