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Mechanical Medicine

A symposium exploring the history of healing by exercise, manipulation and massage, organised by Medicine Galleries Research Fellow Dr Kay Nias.

‘Physical medicine’ or ‘physical therapy’ has ancient origins. For thousands of years, people with illnesses and disabilities have been treated with physio-therapeutic techniques including exercise, manipulation and massage, as well as air, water, heat and cold, electricity and light. These various healing methods have rich and diverse histories that span time, cultures and medical traditions.
While documentary evidence representing the multi-faceted worlds of these healing practices can often be difficult to find, museum medical collections contain a wealth of material culture that offers unique insight into these underrepresented histories.

This interdisciplinary symposium aims to illuminate the history of therapeutic exercise, manipulation and massage - with or without apparatus—also collectively known as mechanotherapy. Used within a variety of therapeutic practices such as bone-setting and orthopaedics, chiropractic and osteopathy, obstetrics and gynaecology, holism and spiritual healing, manual techniques have traversed conventional boundaries of orthodox and alternative medicine, as well as hospital, private and domestic settings. 

Papers will be given by scholars from a range of disciplines and will discuss cross-cultural perspectives on mechanotherapy and manual healing.

Download the symposium programme