Bones of medieval monk reveal injury like Gascoigne's: The British Association for the Advancement of Science: Tom Wilkie and Susan Watts report from Loughborough

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The Independent Online
A 45-YEAR-OLD, 13th-century monk found in a churchyard in York may have suffered a 'Gazza- style' knee injury playing football, scientists told the meeting yesterday. Gazza and the monk, from the Gilbertine monastic foundation of St Andrew, had exactly the same fracture. They both tore their anterior cruciate ligament, a serious injury that put Paul Gascoigne out of the FA Cup final in 1991.

The monk's fracture provides a unique glimpse of medieval medical treatment. The scientists who found him, from the University of Bradford and the York Archaeological Trust for Research and Excavation, believe it is the only medieval skeleton found with treatment to a lower limb. The monk was a member of the Cistercian order, which had privileged access to medical specialists. His skeleton had a bow-legged appearance in its grave. He apparently had a crutch - his right shoulder was sticking up - to help ease the pain of his right knee injury. He would have walked with a noticeable limp, the scientists said, and the knee would have been chronically infected.

'It is most probable that the injury was sustained after some sort of violent trauma,' Christopher Knusel told the meeting. He said that early references to football playing among the English order of Gilbertine monks suggested this was a possible cause.

The medieval approach to treatment appears to have been a lot less comfortable than the advanced medical techniques available to Gazza. The skeleton's knee was twisted and bent some 30 degrees out of alignment. The scientists suggest it had been encased in two copper metal plates with leather straps to immobilise the joint. This treatment was recommended by Hippocrates 2,000 years before. He advised doctors to 'get two rounded circlets sewn in Egyptian leather, such as are worn by those who are kept a long time shackled in the large fetters'.

The scientists suggest the monk may have been treated by a roving medical consultant, with royalty and other high-ranking church officials on his patient list.

Excavations in another churchyard in Wharram Percy, 20 miles from York, indicate that medieval peasant women suffered from a bone-wasting disease previously thought to be a modern-day complaint.

Simon Mays, from the Ancient Monuments Laboratory in London, said that despite their vastly different lifestyles, the medieval women suffered similar degrees of bone mineral loss to their modern, Western counterparts. Osteoporosis is a bone-wasting disease usually found in middle-aged and elderly women, and associated with hormonal changes that accompany the menopause.

It is a major health problem, causing fractures in the hip, wrist, ribs and spine as bone quality deteriorates. It was, however, thought to be a modern complaint, exacerbated by cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and lack of exercise.

Dr Mays said tobacco was unknown in medieval England, and the lifestyle of the women of this time would have involved a great deal of hard physical labour. Pregnancies, thought to help protect against osteoporosis, were also likely to be high. 'Despite the presence of these supposedly protective factors, the medieval women seem to have suffered from osteoporosis to an extent similar to that seen in women today,' he said.

Injury statistics varied, however. The medieval women suffered fewer hip and wrist fractures, although this was probably because many of them did not live to the age where hip fractures become more common.