Lincolnshire Post-Polio Library - A Service of The Lincolnshire Post-Polio Network
The late effects of Polio Information for Health Care Providers
Charlotte Leboeuf

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During the large epidemics, diagnosed cases of polio were admitted to infectious disease hospitals, where they were kept in isolation during the acute stage, often for several weeks. Family members were usually not allowed to visit during this time. The hospital regime in those days was more rigid than it is now. Those patients who were unable to move and to breathe properly, perhaps strapped into what they felt to be weird contraptions, often experienced intense feelings of anxiety and helplessness.

The priorities in the acute stage were to save life and relieve pain. Tracheostomy and mechanical tank respiration (the "iron lung" or "tank") were necessary in cases of respiratory failure. Other respiratory aids, such as the "rocking bed", were used in cases with less critical breathing difficulties. Hot-packs were sometimes used to lessen muscle cramps.

For those who did not recover spontaneously, the acute stage was followed by a phase of gradual rehabilitation (1-3). The goals were to:

By present standards it is apparent that little attention was paid to the psychosocial aspects of residual disability.

In the late rehabilitation stage, functional improvement was sometimes achieved through transfer of tendons, fusion of unstable joints and surgical correction of bony abnormalities.


  1. Merril JB. Treatment of infantile paralysis. The Physiotherapy Review 1947;27:1-8. (Copy can be obtained from the Neurological Resource Centre of S.A.)
  2. Blair HS, Swan RM. Observations on the treatment of poliomyelitis in the United States of America. The Australian Journal of Physiotherapy 1954;1:14-18. (Copy can be obtained from the Neurological Resource Centre of S.A.)
  3. West EF, Davison LH. Observations on 104 cases of anterior poliomyelitis treated in South Australia. The Medical Journal of Australia. 1947;June 28:773-80. (Copy can be obtained from the Neurological Resource Centre of S.A.)

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Copyright The Lincolnshire Post-Polio Network 1997 - 2010.

This document comprises an index, foreword, introduction and seventeen other sections or subdocuments. Permission for printing copies is granted only on the basis that ALL sections are printed in their entirety and kept together as a single document.

Document preparation: Chris Salter, Original Think-tank, Cornwall, United Kingdom.
Created: 7th July 1997
Last modification: 20th January 2010.
Last information content change: 6th June 2000

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