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Electrotherapy machine, England, 1860-1900

This ornate machine looks like an elaborately made clock but is actually used for electrotherapy. This involved the delivering of electric shocks to the patient for its supposed therapeutic value. It was very popular during the 1800s and was claimed to help a wide variety of illnesses, including neuralgia, asphyxia, sciatica, toothache, rheumatism, and tic douloureux – which are painful nervous spasms in the face. The electric current is created by electromagnetic induction. The machine could have been used by doctors, professionally qualified or not, but was also intended for home use.

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    Glossary: electrotherapy machine

    machine used to deliver therapeutic electric shocks to patients

    Glossary: neuralgia

    Spasms of pain which extend along one or more nerves.

    Glossary: sciatica

    Syndrome characterised by pain radiating from the back into the buttock and into the lower extremity the term is also used to refer to pain anywhere along the course of the sciatic nerve (the hip region).

    Glossary: toothache

    Pain in a tooth or in the teeth

    Glossary: asphyxia

    condition caused by the inadequate intake of oxygen. Also known as suffocation. Choking is a form of asphyxia.

    Glossary: electromagnetic induction

    Use of magnetism to produce an electromotive force (emf). If a bar magnet is pushed through a wire coil, an electric current is induced, in the coil, as long as the magnet is moving. By the same principle, an electric current is induced in the coil if it is rotated around the magnet,

    Glossary: electrotherapy

    The passing of electric currents through the body's tissues to stimulate the functioning of nerves and the muscles.

    Glossary: rheumatism

    A disorder where aches and pains affect the muscles and joints.

    Glossary: tic douloureux

    A stabbing pain in the forehead, nose, and scalp, caused by a disorder of the trigeminal nerve (a major nerve in the face).