Before the 18th century hands, feet or other body parts were most commonly used to massage the body. After this date hand cranked and electrical vibration devices were introduced to supplement massage therapy.
Electrotherapy dates back to the 18th century and the experiments of Jean Jallabert who began analysing electricity's ability to stimulate muscles. In 1831 Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction - the generation of electricity in a wire by means of the electromagnetic effect of a current in another wire. This became the basic principle behind the induction coil and a repeater used in Edward Montague Clark's magneto-electric machine, the first to be used in medicine.
The problem of the painful application of faradic current was solved by French physiologist Jacques d'Arsonval. He discovered that increasing current frequency lessened the pain. By the late 19th century electrical therapeutic devices were manufactured both for home use and for physicians and other practitioners. One kind of device sent an electric current through the patient's body and these are still sometimes used by physiotherapists to stimulate muscles or increase blood flow.
Another electrical vibration device emerged in the 19th century. This was essentially a vibrator powered by electricity or hand-cranking which massaged the surface of the skin. The first hand-cranked machines were developed in Germany in the 1850s and delivered percussion in one direction. Steam and electric powered devices followed soon after; some of which could accommodate more than one person at a time.
Electrical and hand-cranked vibration devices were popular at the beginning of the 20th century but electrotherapeutic and hand-cranked vibrators faded in obscurity as the century progressed. Battery and electrically powered vibrators are still manufactured in large quantities around the globe.
Geoff Barker, Assistant Curator, April 2008
Gray, Ira, A Few words on Medical Electricity, Austral Publishing Co, Melbourne, about 1885
Instruction booklet, Shelton Electric Vibrator, Skelton Elecrtic Company, New York, (1910)
Ian Blomeley, 'Good Vibrations: The Macaura Bloood Circulator, Social History Curators Group News, number 27, 1991, p. 9-10
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