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Naprapathy: a vintage modality mash-up

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Jonathan Jarry of McGill’s (very nifty) Office for Science & Society has written a new article about “naprapathy,” an obscure old chiropractic take on fascia-manipulation therapy.

Naprapathy is as weird as snake sneakers. But scrape off a layer of quaint, kooky, old-timey bullshit, and you find a central tenet that is indistinguishable from typical modern fascia nonsense and pseudoscience, specifically and especially that fascia can “dry up” which “creates knots, and these knots pull bones out of alignment, leading to pain and an assortment of related problems.” Quoting Jarry quoting me:

“‘Fascia is to massage therapy … what subluxation is to chiropractic.’ A convenient villain.”

Fascial “distortions” are imaginary scapegoats in massage therapy just like spinal “subluxations” are in chiropractic. You have to blame people’s pain on something … and ideally something that can plausibly be repaired with bare hands, or maybe some simple tools.

To create naprapathy, chiropractors just shifted the blame from subluxations to fascia. A bit of a modality mash-up. This kind of conceptual mixing and matching has been going on for decades in manual therapy, and none of it really matters. Most of whatever value people are getting from any kind of hands-on healing method is coming from the only seriously active ingredients: touch, time, and relationship.

When you get some decent pain relief from a session with a massage therapist or a chiropractor — or even a naprapath — that is almost always what should get the credit.

Someone on exTwitter asked me if the power of touch implies that self-massage would be ineffective. Great question! I suspect it probably does get some of the touch magic — probably different and less, but a respectable dose — despite seemingly being way less profound than being touch-therapized by someone else. Animals do groom/soothe themselves with touch! And we are animals, just with more neuroses. And so humans doubtless also benefit from “playing with ourselves.”

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