During World War I (1914-18), which was, emotionally, particularly taxing on the
battlefields, a veritable outbreak of functional neurological disorders occurred
(Video 1). It was the type of post-traumatic syndrome of this war. About 10 000
soldiers were affected. Neurologists and psychiatrists were very perplexed,
oscillating between the hypothesis of simulation and that of hysteria. Various
techniques, sometimes quite barbaric, were used to try to heal these soldiers
with a view to putting them back on the battlefield. The only technique, which
was truly effective, was the electrical stimulation (faradisation) often
practised at very high intensity (the so-called "sinking" method) on different
parts of the body where symptoms were expressed (Video 2). During the
stimulation sessions, the patients were insulted because the doctors believed
some of their troubles were related to the fact that the patient did not want to
heal. The most common hypothesis, to explain these cures, was that of
suggestion. In fact, it was not excluded that peripheral electrical stimulation
can have a true neuromodulation effect in a retrograde way. Nearly 80% of
patients improved and these improvements (because they were very common) were
even filmed (Video 3) as we can now do using a smartphone. The fact is that the
patients remained fragile and therefore returning these soldiers to the
battlefield (which was the main objective of the doctors) was compromised.
Thereafter this technique was almost completely abandoned because of its painful
character. Peripheral magnetic stimulation can be considered to be the modern
form of faradisation
. It has the advantage of being far less painful and
1) It is less painful because the magnetic field crosses the
skin while with faradisation a large part of the current was lost in the skin
and caused significant pain without any therapeutic effect. Only a small part of
the current reached the deep sensory nets.
2) It is more efficient because currents are created in depth and will
directly stimulate the sensory nets that will have a neuro modulation effect at
a central level.
The attached videos are taken from a film directed by Jean-Yves LE NAOUR,
entitled: "When the Great War brings madness". This film used archives from the
French Army that were declassified in 2014 (100 after the end of this war).