Physiotherapy and rehabilitation have always been inextricably linked. Although they represent discrete fields, their histories have often been closely intertwined.
Physical rehabilitation as an organised discipline has its origins in World War I. Beth Linker, in her excellent book War’s waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America, describes how it became necessary to change American attitudes to the retired Civil War veteran who had been considered heroes and, as such, exempted from work. But as the cost of meeting their social welfare costs grew, the government realised it needed a solution, and found its answer in the emerging rehabilitation sciences. The idea of the noble war veteran was recast so that the men were considered work-able rather than permanently unfit. Adapted (or ‘sheltered’) workplaces were developed and rehabilitation services were designed to adapt men to the new work possibilities.
In Britain, many of the same changes were taking place. By 1914, the Incorporated Society of Trained Masseuses (ISTM) had demonstrated it’s legitimacy and was invited to send a corps of masseuses (the Almeric Paget Massage Corps) to serve the field hospitals during WWI. Lessons learnt rehabilitating men suffering from gas attacks, empyema, amputations, peripheral nerve injuries and the effects of field surgery were carried over in the years between the wars and confirmed physiotherapy as the pre-eminent provider of physical rehabilitation services when the welfare state came into being.
The ‘problem’ of the disabled war veteran has always been a concern for governments however, and one that physiotherapy has inadvertently benefitted from. In a new book by John Kinder from the University of Chicago – due for publication in March 2015 – a new chapter is written in America’s relationship with the disabled war veteran:
America has grappled with the questions posed by injured veterans since its founding, and with particular force since the early twentieth century: What are the nation’s obligations to those who fight in its name? And when does war’s legacy of disability outweigh the nation’s interests at home and abroad? In Paying with Their Bodies, John M. Kinder traces the complicated, intertwined histories of war and disability in modern America. Focusing in particular on the decades surrounding World War I, he argues that disabled veterans have long been at the center of two competing visions of American war: one that highlights the relative safety of US military intervention overseas; the other indelibly associating American war with injury, mutilation, and suffering. Kinder brings disabled veterans to the center of the American war story and shows that when we do so, the history of American war over the last century begins to look very different. War can no longer be seen as a discrete experience, easily left behind; rather, its human legacies are felt for decades.
More details of the book can be found here.
Kinder, J.M. (2015). Paying with Their Bodies: American war and the problem of the disabled veteran. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Linker, B. (2011). War’s waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America. University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from Google Scholar.