All Black Waisake Naholo's traditional healing raises scepticism in surgeon

CAMERON BURNELL/Stuff.co.nz

Waisake Naholo talks about injury and excitement after being named in the All Blacks squad.

A medical expert is sceptical about the natural remedies used in the treatment of All Black Waisake Naholo's fractured leg bone.

While some have hailed the Fijian player's speedy recovery as a remarkable gift from God, Wellington orthopaedic surgeon Nigel Willis was somewhat more cautious.

Naholo's quick recuperation may have been "completely coincidental", he said.

Waisake Naholo showing some of his dynamic Super Rugby form in the All Blacks' test against Argentina.
HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES

Waisake Naholo showing some of his dynamic Super Rugby form in the All Blacks' test against Argentina.

"You don't want to be disparaging of a cultural belief system," he said, "but the reality is, it probably would have settled down anyway.

"If these techniques were really valid then they would become mainstream because they would work all the time.

"(Natural remedies) never been subjected to any sort of critical analysis, in terms of scientific evaluation and to work out whether they do make a difference."

Willis had been an orthopaedic specialist for 15 years. 

Without being able to see any X-rays, he generally agreed with the three-month recovery time needed for a cracked fibula.

"Normally we either put them in a cast for six weeks, or a moon boot, with a period of limited weight-bearing...then at the end of six weeks you start rehabilitation.

"But I think the comment that to expect in the order of three months was probably correct."

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However, he said the timeframe could be much shorter.

"If he's had a very minor fracture, with minimal displacement, and minimal disruption of the surrounding soft tissue envelope, then you could expect that it could be faster."

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Willis said the traditional treatment Naholo was given may have had some pain relief benefits.

"It may be that whatever was done was not so much effective in terms of healing, but maybe pain relief."

Leaves could have anaesthetic effects and the ability to reduce swelling, he said. For example, aspirin was from the bark of a willow tree.

"All cultures have their own natural healing methods, but whether that's making a difference, or whether it's all about a belief system and managing pain - it would be hard to sort of tell the difference."

He said it was worth bearing in mind that rugby players had a high pain tolerance.

"These guys are tough," he said. "There are plenty of stories of rugby players that have gone through a whole match with a broken finger or broken ankle."

The surgeon said as a general rule, the risk of refracturing the damaged bone could usually linger for six to 12 months.

Special leaves used on Naholo were reported to be kawakawarau and were applied by his uncle Isei Naiova. 

Naiova told the Fiji Times a few weeks ago that when he first touched Naholo's leg he could feel the damaged bones.

"I later applied traditional leaves which were removed after four days and, as we took the leaves off, I noticed the injury was gone," he said.

"When I first touched his leg he was in pain but after four days he hardly felt any pain.

Naiova said the healing technique has been performed by his forefathers and has been passed down from generation to generation.

"It is a gift from God," he said.

 - Stuff

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