Having their tongue assessed for colour and shape and pulse taken to gauge the health of their internal organs is perhaps not what Bolton Wanderers’ footballers imagined would happen to them when they visited the physio’s room.
Waiting for them, however, was John Brazier, the founder of the Northern Academy of Oriental Medicine, who did precisely that.
And if the idea of taking eastern medicine to premiership football seems unlikely, consider that before long a queue of footballers greeted Brazier’s twice-weekly visits to the Reebok stadium.
Not only that, but some of the club’s physiotherapists and masseuses are now looking to train in the ancient art and one player, Mike Whitlow, is even taking lessons at Brazier’s Lytham St Anne’s-based academy.
East meets west
When Mark Taylor, Bolton’s head physiotherapist, contacted Dr Brazier - the title can be used if it is made clear that it is related to eastern medicine - it was with a view of complementing his traditional western methods.
Yet even Taylor would not have imagined that Brazier, a former national karate champion, would prove so successful in helping to cure long-standing problems that would not respond to treatment.
One player, Ryan Baldacchino, was booked in for a third operation on his groin when he was referred to Brazier, who confidently predicted that he would cure the problem within three weeks.
“In my enthusiasm it took six,” recalls Brazier. “But by then he was able to train and play and he did not need an operation.
“Ninety-five per cent of the time, players are amazed that I am able to accurately diagnose what they are suffering from by studying their tongue and pulse and asking them a few questions.
“But it is, after all, a medicine based on 5,000 years of diagnostic knowledge.”
French defender Bruno N’Gotty was another to benefit from eastern medicine where Taylor’s western methods had proved unsuccessful. “I examined the size and colour of his tongue, which tells us a lot about the internal organs,” Brazier explained. “A big, fat or discoloured tongue, for instance, tells us that certain organs aren’t functioning properly.
“And where in western medicine the pulse is used to measure heart beat, in oriental medicine there are certain points on the wrist which show how strong your lung, digestive and kidney systems are.
“With Bruno, I diagnosed pulse weakness on the spleen, which is symptomatic of a digestive imbalance, and oedema - or excessive water under the skin.
“In Chinese medicine the spleen exists to extract nutrients from food and distribute it to muscles and into the body generally.
“Another symptom of a weak spleen is loose bowels - and Bruno was going to the toilet five times a day.
“Initially I treated him with acupuncture in the stomach and legs to strengthen the spleen and kidney systems.
“Then I gave him an abdominal massage which stimulates the kidneys.
“And finally I did reciprocal muscle treatment on him to get his muscles working more efficiently.
“After two weeks of being treated a couple of times a day he was back to full fitness.”
Chinese medicine is now the preferred choice of treatment for some high-profile celebrities.
Barry Sheene, recently diagnosed with stomach and throat cancer, is exploring eastern medicine as an alternative to chemotherapy, and Richard Gere, a converted Buddhist, uses acupuncture in a quest to appear more youthful.
“But the aim is prevention, not cure,” said Brazier. “I did martial arts for 20 years.
“And in traditional martial arts, which is self-defence, there is an element of medicine.
“Your job is to keep people healthy as well as safe.”
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.