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Caricature of electrotherapy from 1818.

Caricature of electrotherapy from 1818.

Credits:Science Museum, London/SSPL

Medical practitioners have explored the potential uses of electricity as a form of treatment since the 1700s, when devices such as Leyden jars, friction machines and later the battery enabled the production and storage of static and current electricity. From the middle of the century, physicians and lay people such as John Wesley applied electricity to patients' bodies for a variety of complaints from tuberculosis to epilepsy.

Many of these treatments have been discarded, but simultaneously a wide range of new forms of electrotherapy have been developed. Today, methods used include muscle stimulation to rehabilitate weakened muscles, or to relieve muscle spasms; stimulation of the brain for neurological disorders; and the application of electric currents to facilitate the healing of wounds. While the positive effects of electricity on certain conditions has been proven empirically, in many cases scientists still cannot explain why this is the case.


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