Artifact of the Week: Chas A. Branston Co’s Medical Coil

By Shelby Clifford, AHS Co-op Student

Electrical Muscle Stimulation- a mouthful to say, and a earful to hear. What would that be, you might ask? Here at the Hillary House we have just the right artifact to explain this medical practice.

Back when Dr. Robert Michael Hillary was in WW1, he had an accident. He had fallen off of his horse, January of 1917, and sustained some painful injuries in both of his knees. Due to his sudden fall, he was having trouble trying to get back into the fast pace of the war, and needed a healing process to help him get back on his feet. One of the options he was faced with was the practice of electric muscle therapy. Electric muscle therapy has been dated back to 1762, when Italian psychiatrist Luigi Galvani tried an experiment on a frog leg with the tip of a metal knife and a copper wire, seeing the muscle convulse. As research went on, extensive research, they started to incorporate it into the daily lives of doctors, hospitals and clinics. In particular, Chas. A Branston Co created a portable medical coil that could be brought anywhere to induce electric currents into injuries to help rehabilitate muscles. Chas. A Branston Co. created a variety of electrotherapy devices throughout the duration of the business’ career. Dr. Hillary brought this specific device into the heart of battle and used it often to help his knees. The electric current, chosen to be measured on either primary, secondary or primary/secondary currents are pressed onto the muscle and convulse the muscles, for periods of 0.1-1 seconds and 50 second breaks in between each shock. This procedure can span from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the severity of the injury.

The science behind this technique is the idea that it stimulates circulation through muscle and activates fibers within the tissue. Specifically, muscles use both “red” and “white” fibers during extensive periods of strain, like during a workout, or in this case, during a battle. The electric current reactivates the remaining fiber in the muscle and repairs it faster than the normal body can heal it. It also slows down the breakdown of protein in the muscles that happens when injuries occur, or when old age ensues. Here at the Hillary House we have the honour of showcasing the original medical coil set that Dr. Hillary used to heal his knees, and again shows the miraculous steps that the medical field has taken over time to recover the best ways to heal and replenish the body.