This Week in 1916: The training of maimed soldiers

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For service personnel the outcomes of warfare are straightforward: you survive relatively unscathed (although you might carry battle scars in your mind), you die, or you suffer horrific injury.

As we are seeing today in Afghanistan, the consequences of warfare are devastating for those who are maimed or have amputations, a theme taken up in a June 1916 edition of The Engineer, which reported on how one Frenchman was working on devices that would helped rehabilitate and restore limb functionality.

Jules Amar of the Research Laboratory in Paris of the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers was active in the field of ergonomics and had spent a number of years studying the movements of workmen on the shop floor in order to improve output.

The First World War saw a large number of young men return home with amputated and maimed limbs but Monsieur Amar did not see this as an impediment to returning to some sort of gainful employment.

Quoting a report in La Revue de Metallurgie, The Engineer describes how Amar’s understanding of human anatomy led to the Arthrodynamometer, an assessment tool that measured the strength and amplitude of recovering muscles in maimed limbs.

According to Amar, ‘the instrument measures the angular displacements of the limbs or segments of limbs, and the absolute forces exerted by the groups of muscles which control them, whatever degree of flexion may be in question.

‘It consists of two parallel strips of steel jointed like a pair of compasses, and turning easily upon this joint. It measures all practically useful degrees of flexion, that is from 30 degrees to 180 degrees.’

The Engineer goes onto to report how Amar also developed machines for the ‘re-education of the maimed’ and describes the Cycle ergometrique.

Designed for use by amputees also, the rehabilitation device could calculate how much effort was being exerted by the user.

‘It is an apparatus in which use is made of the frame of an ordinary bicycle, but instead of the ordinary wheel there is a fly-which which weighs 36kg (nearly 80 pounds)

‘This is revolved either by pedals in the ordinary way or by a lever handle carried in bearings on a pillar…At each revolution of the fly-wheel an electric contact is made and broken, so that a record of the rate of movement is kept.’

The patient would use the machine at his own speed although a metronome could be used to maintain a steady pace and devices that coupled stumps of arms to the handles let patients exercise whilst  sat down.