Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Human anatomy is not as advanced as we think

 •  • 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 PainScience.com: a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

The science of anatomy was slow to develop historically, and remains surprisingly half-arsed. One good example from 2015 is the somewhat embarrassing discovery of lymphatic vessels in the central nervous system. Oops, how’d we miss that?

My Heart Will Go On, by Robert Krulwich & Adam Cole, explores the goofiness of historical beliefs about anatomy, especially the heart. The influential Roman physician Galen made many declarations about human anatomy without ever doing a human dissection, and then no one else checked his work for another 1000 years, and so everyone thought that the liver was a pump just like the heart. Those crazy Romans! And everyone who trusted them for a millenium!

Don’t be too quick to laugh, though. Modern people still have many odd misconceptions about anatomy (albeit less glaring that “the liver is a pump”). It’s amazing how many people swear by treatments that are based on anatomy that’s dubious or impossible. And the significance of anatomical variations is chronically underestimated by everyone but surgeons.

For instance, my iliotibial band syndrome book explains in detail how misconceptions and even ongoing uncertainty about the anatomy of the iliotibial band have led to bad ideas about how runners knee works, and how to treat it. Good luck finding that kind of analysis on WebMed! 🙂