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Reading Guide for Skeptics

A tour of PainScience.com for readers who have doubts and concerns about the validity and efficacy of popular treatments for injuries and chronic pain

updated (first published 2009)
by Paul Ingraham, Vancouver, Canadabio
I am a science writer and a former Registered Massage Therapist with a decade of experience treating tough pain cases. I was the Assistant Editor of ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I’ve written hundreds of articles and several books, and I’m known for readable but heavily referenced analysis, with a touch of sass. I am a runner and ultimate player. • more about memore about PainScience.com

I hope that skeptics, critical thinkers, and scientists will feel right at home on PainScience.com, and come to think of it as a valuable resource in combatting pseudo-scientific nonsense and old wive’s tales about aches, pains, and injuries. Of course I debunk classic quackeries like subluxation theory, acupuncture, and homeopathy.

But there is a lot of obscure and underestimated pseudoscience in the world of pain and musculoskeletal medicine. You can also find deep dives on all kinds of topics that receive surprisingly little critical analysis elsewhere, like ultrasound, electrical stimulation, stretching, arnica, posturology, trigger points, t’ai chi, fascia, orthotics, and many, many more.

This page lists articles with a particularly strong skeptical angle; see also the complete index of treatment reviews.

Pseudo-science is common in “mainstream” health care for aches, pains, and injuries

Exercise science is drowning in skeptical analysis. Nutrition? Plenty of skeptics there too! Medicine in general? There’s probably more skeptical writing about in that category than any other. But a rigorously skeptical and science-based perspective on the treatment of pain and injury is relatively rare. For example, my tutorial about iliotibial band syndrome (runner’s knee) is the only detailed skeptical review of that problem in existence.

And it’s badly needed. Finding good quality care for injuries and stubborn pain problems can be surprisingly difficult for patients. There are many intellectually immature and pre-scientific ideas in musculoskeletal health care,1 and not just in alternative medicine. Many of those ideas are baked into the clinical reasoning of all kinds of professionals. That’s why I wrote about “pseudo-quackery” in conventional care — treatments and therapies that aren’t on the skeptical radar, but should be.

What skeptics should read on PainScience.com