World War I

Dominique Parain MD PhD


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 more effective.

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).


Video 1

Video 2

Video 3