Fact Check: Photo Does NOT Show 'Vibration Therapy' Treatment In 1890s

Fact Check

  • by: Marlo Lee
Fact Check: Photo Does NOT Show 'Vibration Therapy' Treatment In 1890s Not Seen Here

Did people put their head in a metal pot and wait for it to be hit with a mallet to cure headaches in the 1890s? Is this a picture of "vibration therapy" in action? No, that's not true: The source of this photo is unknown. Vibration therapy was a real thing, but this photo is not an example of it. An expert believes this photo may be the result of several photos from the 20th century put together to make the image in the Facebook post.

The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) on February 18, 2022. It opens:

Vibration Therapy. A treatment for headaches in 1890s.

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2022-02-23 at 3.55.31 PM.png

Facebook screenshot(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Feb 23 20:32:32 2022 UTC)

Lead Stories reached out to Stephen T. Casper, a professor of humanities and social sciences at Clarkson University and author of a book titled "The Neurologists: A History of a Medical Specialty in Modern Britain, C.1789-2000":

I believe this picture is a joke, likely made from superimposed pictures put together in the 20th century. In short, the picture does not depict a real treatment. While vibration therapies did exist in the nineteenth century, the therapies were subtle and nuanced. 19th century doctors were aware that loud noises could cause pathologies. The depicted therapy would cause great harm, and doctors certainly knew that in the 19th century. The picture is, however, a very good depiction of how we imagine medicine to have been in the 'bad old days'. It says more about what we want to believe than anything that ever happened.

Lead Stories also spoke to Melissa Grafe, head of the Medical Historical Library at Yale University. Grafe sent Google Book and archival links of images referencing vibrational therapy being done in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

A book titled, "Mechanical vibration" by Mary Lydia Hastings Arnold Snow, M.D. shows images of possible examples of vibrational therapies used in 1912, when the book was published:

Screen Shot 2022-03-01 at 12.18.27 PM.png

(Source: Mechanical vibration, Google Books screenshot taken on Tue Mar 1 17:20:55 2022 UTC)

A series of pictures from a patent booklet, "The Vibrator" by C.H. Liedbeck described using a small handheld vibrating tool patented in 1890 that could be used to give "remedial influence in the treatment of the greater number of affections of the muscles and the nerves, diseases of the heart, laryngitis and pneumonitis, numerous disorders of the digestive organs, glandular swellings etc." Here is one example of the figures seen in Liedbeck's booklet.

Screen Shot 2022-03-01 at 12.31.59 PM.png

(Source: The Vibrator, Google Books screenshot taken on Tue Mar 1 17:33:52 2022 UTC)

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Marlo Lee is a fact checker at Lead Stories. She is a graduate of Howard University with a B.S. in Biology. Her interest in fact checking started in college, when she realized how important it became in American politics. She lives in Maryland.

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