Did Richard III have scoliosis?

By Paola Bassanese

A recent excavation in an English car park in Leicester revealed an ancient skeleton believed to belong to 15th century monarch Richard III.

Channel 4 in the UK dedicated a programme about this discovery and world media picked up on the news. The CNN reports: “Mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones was matched to Michael Ibsen, a Canadian cabinetmaker and direct descendant of Richard III’s sister, Anne of York, and a second distant relative, who wishes to remain anonymous.”

My interest in this story as a therapist is the fact that this skeleton presented scoliosis and kyphosis.

These are spinal conditions where the back presents a curvature: in the case of scoliosis it is an “S” shape that can be seen either from the front or the back of the person; in the case of kyphosis the back is curved or hunched at the top and this can be seen from the side.

Screenshot from the BBC website

Shakespeare described Richard III as being hunched – and the skeleton found in Leicester presents spinal deformation.


Scoliosis and kyphosis aren’t treateable and the causes of these diseases are still under investigation. These conditions tend to develop during puberty and in the most severe cases surgery is needed to prevent organ impairement like lung and heart function.

I was one of those people who needed surgery to straighten my spine and avoid painful and life-threatening consequences. I had scoliosis with a 45% curve in my thoracic spine and received physiotherapy after a period of hospitalisation.

Manual therapies like physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic and massage  can help allieviate the discomfort from twisted bones affecting the whole body physiology, particularly shortened muscles.

A technique that I found extremely helpful is myofascial release, which is extremely gentle and works at the level of connective tissue. Bowen technique is also very gentle and non-invasive and can provide relief.