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January 11, 2013

Yesterday's torture devices, today's medical advances

It’s easy to marvel at our advances in medicine. From new knees to artificial hearts, there are thousands of interventions designed to improve and extend your life.

But have you ever stopped to think about how these procedures were developed? The origins of some of our current practices aren’t nearly as benevolent as you may like to think.

In fact, the roots of many of our treatment strategies for pain and the machines that assist in “executing” said prescriptions are derived from some of the most horrific torture devices of the last several thousand years.

So if you’re interested in learning about how the pain and suffering of your ancestors has benefited you, read on — but do so at your own risk.

The rack, originally used to detach the arms from the body, was widely popular throughout Europe, especially during the reign of queen Elizabeth I and other ill-fated monarchs. Securing the victim to a table with the arms extended overhead, a crank was turned slowly pulling the shoulders from their sockets until the sentence – or arms – had been “carried out.”

But there was probably a split second where the rack was therapeutic for people with low back pain. A small, longitudinal pull creates a spacing effect in the spine, thereby reducing pressure on the spinal discs and nerve roots. Today, we call it “traction” and it’s the single most popular form of spinal therapy available – just be wary if your therapist ties your hands up and turns a crank – we’ve gotten away from that practice over the last few centuries.

Burning and oiling were common occurrences for thieves and criminals right up until the colonial days of our country. Various chemical mediums were used, ranging from hot tar to oil from spicy peppers. The oils were distributed to areas of the body sensitive enough to obtain a confession or to exact a punishment — and they usually did just that.

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