Tests Confirm Richard III had Scoliosis

by LMatthews on June 12, 2014

scoliosis richard iiiFor hundreds of years there have been references to the hunch-backed appearance of King Richard III of England but up until now it wasn’t known if this was imaginative licence or based on facts. Following the unearthing in 2012 of the king’s skeleton, scientists have now confirmed that Richard III had scoliosis, or spinal curvature, and a significant case at that, but would it actually have caused the degree of deformity some claim?


Scoliosis is a condition that can cause spinal stenosis as it creates a sideways s-shaped curve to the spine where the spine should look straight when viewing from the front or back. This curvature affects the spaces through which spinal nerves travel, puts pressure on the spinal cord, and changes the way the spine absorbs shock and maintains strength and mobility. This condition typically arises in childhood and can usually be corrected using back braces, physical therapy, and back surgery to re-educate and train the spine.

Bosworth Battlefield – Now a Leicester Car Park

The British researchers used a replica of the skeleton of the king to examine the truth of the claims that this 15th Century ruler had a crooked back. Richard III reigned from 1483 to 1485, and died on the battlefield which became buried under a car park in Leicester, UK. The remains were suspected to be those of the king due to the scars from the Battle of Bosworth, the clear spinal deformity, radiocarbon dating, and the use of DNA comparison with surviving relatives or the king.


70 Degree Curvature in Thoracic Spine

The skeleton underwent computed tomography (CT) in order to produce a 3D printed replica which the scientists could then examine for signs of spinal deformity. One of the researchers, Bruno Morgan, MD, professor of radiology at University of Leicester, confirmed that King Richard III likely had adolescent-onset idiopathic scoliosis, with a significant curvature to the right in the lower thoracic spine. This scoliosis would have caused the king some pain but, despite the 70 degree curve, Morgan suggested that it may not have actually been all that debilitating.

The odd thing, however, is that the normal shape of the king’s cervical and lumbar spine would have meant that the scoliosis was barely noticeable unless the king was naked and bending over. His ribs may have stuck out a little to one side but these tests suggest that the king would have had some pain in the middle of his back but no pronounced hunchback.

Scoliosis Treatment fit for a King

Had the king been alive today he may have been given a specially fitted back brace at the onset of scoliosis in his teen years in the hope of minimizing the scoliosis and, should it have progressed, to be offered back surgery to correct the curvature. As all back surgery poses risks the king may very well have decided against any such procedure, despite the back trouble making battle a little tougher than for other, healthier fighters.

So, it appears that there is some truth to the hunch-backed image of King Richard III of England but that poets, playwrights and commentators have turned this 15th Century monarch into a caricature of scoliosis.

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