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Ask a Doctor: Is Batman’s Healing Method Sound?

If you've already seen The Dark Knight Rises, you are approved to read the following spoiler-packed post. If you have not yet seen The Dark Knight Rises, we'll see you back here after you do.

During his first showdown with supervillain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne incurs what would normally be considered a career-ending injury: a broken back. In the comics that inspired the film, Wayne takes a while to get back in fighting trim. But director Christopher Nolan found another way to get Batman on his feet. Trapped in a prison by Bane, Wayne is helped by a fellow inmate, who punches a misplaced piece of vertebrae back into place, then creates a rope harness for Bruce to hang from until he can walk again. Eighty days or so later, he's back on the streets of Gotham. Confused by this particular method of physical therapy, Vulture consulted chiropractor Dr. Suzanne McBride of Network Wellness Care to find out whether Batman's healing powers are, indeed, superhuman.

Let's start with the vertebrae being punched back into his back.
Obviously, no, you can't do that. There's so many things that you'd have to pay attention to, so many things going on with the nervous system. The spinal cord itself is extremely tender and it's a type of material that needs to be protected, which is why it's protected by bone. So, I mean, that's ridiculousness.

So if someone came to you with a vertebrae sticking out of their back, you wouldn't punch it into place because you could damage the spinal cord, is that correct?
Right.

How would one actually put a vertebrae back into place without going into surgery? Is that even possible?
Probably not, no. If it's sticking out of the skin, it's gone pretty far awry.

Let's talk about the stretching device that he uses. You said there's some controversy about hanging in the chiropractic community?
Yes. There's a study by Alfred Briggs on adverse mechanical cord tension (AMCT), and that's what I base a lot of my work on. It says that if you were to pull the spinal cord really tightly, you could herniate the pineal gland in your brain, which helps control the endocrine system. But a lot of other professionals use those really expensive traction machines, and people seem to get a lot of relief from it. I use gentler techniques to get your body to truly heal, long-term, without damaging other parts of your body while you do it.

So Batman is hanging from the ceiling. Hypothetically, if he did that for a few months, could he align himself?
That's just going to depend on what damage occurred — if the spinal cord tore, if the vertebrae shattered, if arteries were severed. If everything else in his body remained intact except for the shape of the spine, then the shape of the spine could absolutely shift with gravity. But it's never one thing. Generally, it's fourteen things happening all at once. But if his bones were intact and they just moved out of place, gravity could do the job.

But assuming he has other injuries, putting that kind of pressure on his spinal cord — you said it could tear? Would that leave him paralyzed from the waist down?
Yeah, he could lose a lot of function. If you rip and tear the spinal cord, then the brain can't communicate with your body, and you're not going to heal.

If Bruce Wayne were to visit a chiropractor under less strenuous circumstances, what do you think you could do for him?
I'm a Network Spinal Analysis chiropractor; I see things from the perspective that there's emotional stress, physical stress, and chemical stress. So I would work more with the tension in his system as a whole person, to help alleviate the emotional stress and have him work through his old issues. Which, for a superhero, might take away his abilities, because he has channeled all that bound-up energy. But for the average person, emotional stress from your past turns into lower back pain and ulcers and all sorts of other stuff.