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Traditional Igbo Bonesetting Explained

Bonesetting in Africa – Nigeria

So, what exactly is bonesetting?

Bonesetting is an ancient osteopathic discipline where practitioners specialise in treating bone fractures, dislocations, ligament sprains, spinal pains, muscle cramps, and muscular pains. Similar to modern medical practices like physiotherapy. 

How was it integrated into Igbo culture?

As a discipline it has been practised in Igboland for generations. When British colonial anthropologists first encountered the treatment, they were impressed by its effectiveness. Especially given the fact that physiotherapy research in Britain had just recently begun.

In traditional Igbo culture, bonesetters are referred to as ‘onye na-agba okpukpu’. They are thought to be chosen by the gods and given the ability to heal. Their knowledge is passed down from generation to generation via skills and experience acquired as part of an ancestral heritage. Practitioners can be either men or women, and techniques are kept secret.

What was the practise like?

In practice, a diagnosis is made by looking for clinical indicators and passing the fingers across the afflicted area, exerting pressure as needed. Herbal ointments prepared from various ingredients are used to help with the treatment. Ufie (camwood), Okwuma (shea butter), Eluaku/Eluaki (palm kernel oil), and Ebuba eke (a fatty oil extract from a python) are examples of some of these substances.

Bonesetters strive to minimise damage and restore the limb to its anatomical position after locating the fracture site. The injured limb is splinted after reduction to restrict limb mobility. The patient is then placed on a typical treatment plan that includes a few months of immobilisation and rehabilitation.

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1) Nwachukwu, B. U., Okwesili, I. C., Harris, M. B., & Katz, J. N. (2011, January 7). Traditional bonesetters and contemporary orthopaedic fracture care in a developing nation: Historical aspects, contemporary status and Future Directions. The open orthopaedics journal. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from 

2) Indigenous medical knowledge and bone setting among the Igbo of ... (n.d.). Retrieved May 26, 2022, from

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