A man receiving radioscopic thermotherapy on his leg. Flickr.

17. Thermotherapy

An innovation of the turn of the 20th century was the use of hot, dry air to treat various ailments. Samuel Howard Monell wrote A system of instruction in X-ray methods and medical uses of light, hot-air, vibration and high-frequency currents : a pictorial system of teaching by clinical instruction plates with explanatory text. It was published in 1902 and discussed the various ways in which the new field of radioscopy or fluorography, both early names for X-Rays, could be used to treat ailments ranging from cancer to pain. It also included an entire section on thermotherapy titled “Hot-Air Therapy.”

The manual advises that temperatures of 200° to 280° Fahrenheit may be applied to the whole body, with temperatures of 300° to 380° Fahrenheit used locally. It states that a patient’s body temperature will rise as many as five degrees during this treatment and that protocols must be followed precisely or severe burns may result.

While this treatment is genuinely terrifying and one wonders how many burn patients were a result, thermotherapy is still a part of modern medicine, although at much lower temperatures. Anyone who has received a muscle injury will likely be familiar with the heat packs, heating pads, and possibly even the more modern infrared heating used to apply soothing heat to the affected area.