The Shellshock

Physical Causes

and Treatment Webpage©

This webpage is based on some of the ideas contained in 1000 page book called The Posture Theory which were published between 1991 and 2000, and is now available as an ebook for $7.69 here.


On ABC news radio Australia in Adelaide on 28-10-07 it was reported that 20% of U.S. veterans returning from the Iraqi War were suffering from mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) which was caused by being close to explosions or by blows to the head. It also occurs in contact sports such as boxing and rugby. Soldiers in Iraq are at increased risk of the injury because of the greater use of improvised explosive devices in roadside bombs. The information was given out by the British Ministry of Defense who are investigating the incidence amongst British soldiers and was originally reported on BBC radio.

The Physical Basis for the Symptoms of Shellshock

Shellshock has generally been diagnosed as a mental illness and attributed to the fear of battle, however a study of medical and military history reveals that this has not always been the case and that there is a lot of evidence of a physical basis for the various health problems involved in the condition. There has been so much uncertainty about the nature of the illness that the study of its history includes the study of many different diagnostic terms which have been used to describe it. These synonyms include DaCosta's syndrome, Soldiers heart, battle fatigue, effort syndrome, neurocirculatory asthenia, combat neurosis, combat hysteria, and conversion hysteria etc. The study also reveals that many entirely different conditions such as blindness, deafness, paralysis, chronic fatigue, hallucinations, and nightmares, have all been included together under the one label. For example three different soldiers may be diagnosed as having battle fatigue, yet one is deaf, the other blind, and the other paralysed, and none of them suffer from hallucinations, nightmares, or fatigue. In another battle zone the same soldiers would be diagnosed with combat neurosis, yet in World War 1 the conditions would have been called shellshock. The following essay on the history of shellshock was designed to clarify some of these matters.


The History of Shell shock ©

(This essay is an extract of the 11th edition of The Posture Theory pages 492-494)

There have been examples of soldiers who became delirious after the hot sun heated their metal helmets and cooked their brains, and some men ran stark raving mad across the battlefield with their intestines trailing behind them after their bellies had been sliced open by the slash of a sword.
In the middle ages some mounted knights in full body armour rode horses at full speed and collided head on in jousting contests, and fell to the ground senseless from the shock.
In the mid 19th Century some men returned from battle with palpitations, fatigue, or indigestion which usually started during a bout of typhoid, malaria, jaundice, diarrhoea, or fever, or during a long march at double quick pace while fully laden with a heavy knapsack. Those symptoms persisted long after the infection etc had cleared up. The palpitations were then aggravated by effort, where some men could walk comfortably for 30 miles, but have symptoms if they ran, or lifted heavy weights. The symptoms were aggravated by the tight belts of their uniform, and recurred if they stood up or laid down too suddenly, or laid on their left or right side, or on their back sometimes, and they would become dizzy if they stooped down. Such problems were more common in thin chested men and rarer in broad shouldered soldiers and were known to have an obvious physical cause suspected to involve disturbance to the cerebrospinal circulation, but in most cases their was no evidence of physical injury so military doctors put the condition in the too hard basket and relegated it to the Pandora's box of unknown disorders.
Also they could not discharge every soldier who presented with such symptoms because that would deplete the army of manpower more than a full scale battle, and because it was thought that discharging men who looked healthy would have a demoralising affect on remaining troops. Only severe cases were discharged, many were put on light guard duties and only those who appeared to have recovered fully were sent back to fight.
During the Crimean War (1853-1856) between England and Russia it was sarcastically suggested that military surgeons should be provided with smelling salts to revive soldiers who, because of their tight collars, were fainting by the dozens on the battlefield and being captured by the Russians.
In 1900 there were more than 40 shops in London which dealt exclusively with male corsetry with some corsets such as "The Carlton" advertised as being "a great favourite with military gentlemen".
Those corsets were designed for "cultivating the figure" but permanently changed a broad based chest into a funnel shaped chest which restricted breathing, and would have altered the shape and position of the heart and reduced the capacity for effort. Corsets were still used by some men up until 1914, the start of World War I.
In World War I there were reports of recruits who fainted while standing on parade, or who collapsed while carrying a heavy knapsack and sprinting along an obstacle course at training camp many miles from the war zone.
There were also reports of soldiers who had been in several battles and decorated for bravery and who were in a new skirmish when a bullet whistled past their ear, or a grenade or shell exploded nearby, and although they were not hit, they became suddenly or imminently deaf, blind, mute, or nervous, or paralysed in a limb, or they suddenly stood up and wandered around the battle ground in a daze or ran toward the enemy to be shot down in a frenzy as they yelled aloud that they were the general who had come to declare peace. In some soldiers there was spontaneous recovery weeks later, but in others, the condition was chronic. The symptoms were initially attributed to shock waves which caused microscopic haemorrhages in the brain or jolted the spinal cord so they were diagnosed as shell shock.
However, in many instances there was no evidence of physical lesions so the relatively new psychiatric theories were purporting that the soldiers subconscious mind must be turning fear, or cowardice, into a physical symptom to give his conscious mind a respectable health reason for avoiding or leaving the war zone. Such theories were the subject of ongoing criticism from many doctors because the implications that the absence of physical evidence equated with the absence of physical injury was a flagrant non-sequitur, and because the psychiatric notions were unverifiable and unprovable and because they appealed to prejudice rather than to logic.
100,000 British soldiers returned from the Western Front with shell shock and were sent for treatments such as psychoanalysis, mental catharsis, re-education, persuasion, suggestion, placebos etc, with various claims that the spontaneous recoveries were the result of the treatments.
Military authorities then advised army doctors not to use the diagnosis of shell shock because it created the supposedly false impression that such conditions were due to physical injuries caused by shockwaves.
The term shell shock was abandoned and the psychiatric explanations were eventually accepted, with the symptoms being attributed to conversion hysteria.
By World War II fashion and recruitment practices were different and soldiers were better fed, clothed and housed and battles were of less duration so shell shock was less prominent, except amongst POWs who lost more than 1/3 of their body weight. Many of them returned from the war with chronic fatigue which restricted their future social, sporting and occupational capacity though some are still alive 50 years later.
In the Vietnam War some shell shock victims were sent back to battle in an experimental attempt to get a cure, however such soldiers tended to return with more severe chronic fatigue and move to the country for the quiet life.
During the Iraqi War world news reported on US bombs designed to drop like freight trains, screaming in flight around the clock, and to explode and produce shockwaves designed to concuss the bodies and brains of the elite Iraqi republican guards and leave them stonkered or shell shocked, with shattered nerves, unable to coordinate their arms and legs, and bleeding from the eyes, ears, mouth and every other orifice and too exhausted to fight.
Since then there have been reports of dolphins which are able to survive in the Amazon River by emitting sound waves which stun flesh eating piranha fish, and US military researchers claim to have developed a new generation of weapon which produces sub-sonic (low frequency) high intensity sound waves specifically designed to loosen bowels and disable the enemy with diarrhoea or constipation.
From the history of shell shock, I conclude that the human body contains a variety of structures which have different mechanical properties, each of which respond to different shockwaves depending on the intensity, frequency and direction of the shockwaves.
For example the ear drum and vocal chords could be jolted to cause deafness or muteness
. The nerves or blood vessels might violently resonate like guitar strings to produce paralysis or fatigue, and the walls and tissues or attachments of the brain, heart, stomach, or intestines could violently resonate and be damaged, resulting in a variety of ongoing symptoms.
Such problems would be more likely to affect soldiers whose internal anatomy was already crushed, constricted, displaced and loosely attached because of poor posture, a thin chest, tight belts or corsets etc. Furthermore any disease or starvation which reduced body fat would leave the anatomy loose, and also less insulated from the affect of shockwaves and therefore more prone to damage and symptoms.
It would also be expected that the symptoms which occur would be similar, but somewhat different to those caused by knife, bullet or shrapnel wounds, and that they could be caused by other factors and confused with other conditions.
Nevertheless, there is clear evidence that the symptoms of shell shock are due to a temporary or chronic injury, and that the type of injury can be produced by shockwaves, and also, by a variety of other causes. M.B.


The Origin of the word Shock

The word 'shock' is derived from the Middle French word choc, from choquer - to strike against, and is similar to the Middle Dutch word schocken - to jolt, and in physics the word shock refers to any collision which creates oscillations inside the bodies which collide.
The fact that some symptoms occurred at training camps where there were no explosions, was erroneously used as evidence that shell shock must have a psychological cause. M.B.