The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Functional Impairment and Physical Stress in the Past: How Physiotherapy Ideologies Can Contribute to Bioarchaeological Interpretations


Department of Anthropology, McMaster University

Saturday Morning, 200DE Add to calendar

Evidence of ‘disability’ in the past is a topic widely discussed in bioarchaeology, but little attention has been paid to the complexities associated with retrospective identification of physical impairment using skeletal evidence. Interpreting how individuals and groups experience injury requires a more detailed understanding of the factors leading to the development of physical dysfunction than are currently available in bioarchaeological literature. Incorporation of contemporary physiotherapy ideologies, concerned primarily with the management of physical impairment through optimization of function and mobility, will greatly inform bioarchaeological interpretations of the long-term effects of musculoskeletal trauma. Physiotherapy practitioners often look beyond physiology and stress the importance of socio-cultural and subjective perceptions of injury as mediating factors in developing coping strategies. Coping strategies, frequently influenced by pain perception and reaction, are important in predicting the development and sustainment of physical impairment, especially as the subjective nature of pain and coping indicates that response to injury/stress is not universal (i.e., individuals with similar physiological trauma may differ greatly in their perceptions of injury severity, coping strategies, pain, and consequent impairment). As both culture and individual cognition influence the development and expression of dysfunction, these concepts should be considered in bioarchaeological interpretations to build a more comprehensive approach for assessing function associated with musculoskeletal trauma. The integration of physiotherapy functional concepts in bioarchaeological assessments of physical impairment will permit more informed interpretations regarding cultural behaviors and individual lived-experiences, ultimately improving our understanding of the reality of physical stresses in the past.

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