Shell Shock: Psychogenic Gait and Other Movement Disorders—A Film Review

Moscovich, Mariana; Estupinan, Danny; Qureshi, Muhammad; Okun, Michael S.

Background: The psychological pressure on soldiers during World War I (WWI) and other military conflicts has resulted in many reported cases of psychogenic gait as well as other movement disorders. In this paper, psychogenic movement disorders captured in the WWI film footage “War Neuroses” is reanalyzed.
Methods: Two movement disorders specialists re-examined film images of 21 WWI patients with various and presumed psychogenic manifestations, pre- and post treatment. The film was recorded by Arthur Hurst, a general physician with an interest in neurology.
Results: All 21 subjects were males, and all presented with symptoms relating to war trauma or a psychological stressor (e.g., being buried, shrapnel wounds, concussion, or trench fever). The most common presenting feature was a gait disorder, either pure or mixed with another movement disorder (15), followed by retrograde amnesia (2), abnormal postures (pure dystonia) (1), facial spasm (1), head tremor (1), “hyperthyroidism-hyperadrenalism” (1). Nineteen patients received treatment, and the treatment was identified in nine cases. In most cases, treatment was short and patients improved almost immediately. Occupational therapy was the most common treatment. Other effective methods were hypnosis (1), relaxation (1), passive movements (2), and probable “persuasion and re-education” (6).
Discussion: The high success rate in treating psychogenic disorders in Hurst's film would be considered impressive by modern standards, and has raised doubt in recent years as to whether parts of the film were staged and/or acted.


Also Published In

Tremor and Other Hyperkinetic Movements

More About This Work

Academic Units
Center for Parkinson's Disease and Other Movement Disorders
Published Here
October 3, 2013