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Remedial exercises and sport

Massage Exercise Room, King George V Military Hospital, London, 1916-1918.

Massage Exercise Room, King George V Military Hospital, London, 1916-1918.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

Exercise has always been important to keep an army fit - Roman soldiers were forced to do gymnastics every day. During the First World War exercises were used to help soldiers recover.

However, during the Second World War a systematic regime was established where gymnastic exercises and sport were used to return men to fitness. The process was called rehabilitation. This was a combination of psychology and physical medicine. The soldiers needed to regain their fitness for battle and their confidence. If they were wounded, broke a bone or had an amputation, they went to special centres called rehabilitation units so doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapists could help them regain function.

After recovering in hospital, the men would go to a centre where they would do exercises in the morning and play sport in the afternoon. Sporting competition was supposed to make the soldiers feel better. It was also less boring than repetitive gymnastic exercises. They swam, played golf and even played football. In the early stages of their therapy, they sometimes played football while sitting on the floor. This rehabilitation system exists to this day.


Related links


J Anderson, ‘Turned Into Taxpayers: Paraplegia, Rehabilitation and Sport at Stoke Mandeville, 1944-56’, Journal of Contemporary History, 38/3 (July 2003), pp 461-76



Exercise helpful to those with physical illness, for example stroke, or back injuries. A physical therapist is a specialist trained in using exercise and physical activities to condition and improve muscles.