Railway spine

What was ‘railway spine’?

As the rail network expanded in the 19th century, so the number of accidents on it increased. Doctors began to notice patients who had been involved in train crashes showing no obvious physical damage, but complaining of assorted symptoms from sleep disturbance to pains in the back, arms and hands.


Physicians called this disorder ‘railway spine’. Accident victims demanded financial compensation for the condition, books were written on the subject and medical men at international conferences argued about whether the cause was genuine damage to the spine or hysteria brought on by stress.

The diagnosis and the term gradually disappeared in the first years of the 20th century.


Answered by: Nick Rennison