28 May 2013

This is a "Schnee bath"

The Schnee Four Cell Bath was used for treating general rheumatic conditions and painful joints. A patient would be seated with an individual bath for each limb. Each bath had its own current, which could be varied independently.  In this treatment patients could bear a much stronger current than with electrodes on small areas, because of the large skin area exposed to the current in each bath. There was no danger of electric shock as in a full bath as the porcelain tubs were not connected to water pipes and were well insulated from earthing. The quantity of water required was not great and did not depend on a nearby water supply. It also allowed the person to be treated without undressing, speeding up treatment times and proving much more comfortable and convenient than a full body bath.
Text from the Sacred Medical Order of Hope.  Photo from Edward Reginald Morton and Elkin Cumberbatch’s Essentials of Medical Electricity (Third Edition) (1916), via A London Salmagundi.

Addendum:  Reposted from 2012, with a hat tip to reader Rein in the Netherlands, who sent me this 1930s photo of a Schnee bath in Bethesda, the first Dutch spa, established in 1849 in Laag Soeren.

The "Schnee" is not a reference to the German word for snow; it was the name of the inventor, who lived in Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary), Czechoslovakia.
Photo credit: Mrs. Kike Laagewaard, granddaughter of the last managing director of the spa.


  1. Such devices were a common treatment for gout. It was essential for the affected limb(s) to be immersed in the hot water while the rest of the body remained at room temperature. Robertson Davies mentions this in his masterful "Deptford Trilogy", wherein the aged actor Sir John Tresize uses such a bath, albeit not electrified, for his gouty foot.

  2. This is very similar to today's treatment for hyperhidrosis. The treatment is called iontophoresis

  3. It looks very similar to the very early ECG machines: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Willem_Einthoven_ECG.jpg

    Perhaps, when ECG recording technology had moved beyond immersing the limbs in water, the equipment/technique was repurposed for other uses?

  4. I find it amazing that they were able to use sound reasoning and evidence to improve patient comfort and lessen duration of treatment without evaluating the effectiveness of their treatment.

    Iontophoresis is useful for driving ions (such as a medicine) into the skin with an electric charge. And reverse iontophoresis may be useful for driving uric acid (and its associated ions) out through the skin. But I don't understand at all how it would be useful for rheumatic conditions.

  5. This reminds me of the "denki furo" (electric bath) that they had at the neighborhood public baths when I lived in Japan. You would sit in one vat of water, and the electric current (low!) was actually quite helpful for tense muscles and aching joints. Did feel a bit creepy, though.


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