Per Henrik Ling - Encyclopedia

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PER HENRIK LING (1776-1839), Swedish medical-gymnastic practitioner, son of a minister, was born at Ljunga in the south of Sweden in 1776. He studied divinity, and took his degree in 1797, but then went abroad for some years, first to Copenhagen, where he taught modern languages, and then to Germany, France and England. Pecuniary straits injured his health, and he suffered much from rheumatism, but he had acquired meanwhile considerable proficiency in gymnastics and fencing. In 1804 he returned to Sweden, and established himself as a teacher in these arts at Lund, being appointed in 1805 fencing-master to the university. He found that his daily exercises had completely restored his bodily health, and his thoughts now turned towards applying this experience for the benefit of others. He attended the classes on anatomy and physiology, and went through the entire curriculum for the training of a doctor; he then elaborated a system of gymnastics, divided into four branches, (1) pedagogical, (2) medical, (3) military, (4) aesthetic, which carried out his theories. After several attempts to interest the Swedish government, Ling at last in 1813 obtained their co-operation, and the Royal Gymnastic Central Institute, for the training of gymnastic instructors, was opened in Stockholm, with himself as principal. The orthodox medical practitioners were naturally opposed to the larger claims made by Ling and his pupils respecting the cure of diseases - so far at least as anything more than the occasional benefit of some form of skilfully applied "massage" was concerned; but the fact that in 1831 Ling was elected a member of the Swedish General Medical Association shows that in his own country at all events his methods were regarded as consistent with professional recognition. Ling died in 1839, having previously named as the repositories of his teaching his pupils Lars Gabriel Branting (1799-1881), who succeeded him as principal of the Institute, and Karl Augustus Georgii, who became sub-director; his son, Hjalmar Ling (1820-1886), being for many years associated with them. All these, together with Major Thure Brandt, who from about 1861 specialized in the treatment of women (gynecological gymnastics), are regarded as the pioneers of Swedish medical gymnastics.

It may be convenient to summarize here the later history of Ling's system of medical gymnastics. A Gymnastic Orthopaedic Institute at Stockholm was founded in 1822 by Dr Nils Akerman; and after 1827 received a government grant; and Dr Gustaf Zander elaborated a medico-mechanical system of gymnastics, known by his name, about 1857, and started his Zander Institute at Stockholm in 1865. At the Stockholm Gymnastic Central Institute qualified medical men have supervised the medical department since 1864; the course is three years (one year for qualified doctors). Broadly speaking, there have been two streams of development in the Swedish gymnastics founded on Ling's beginnings - either in a conservative direction, making certain forms of gymnastic exercises subsidiary to the prescriptions of orthodox medical science, or else in an extremely progressive direction, making these exercises a substitute for any other treatment, and claiming them as a cure for disease by themselves. Modern medical science recognizes fully the importance of properly selected exercises in preserving the body from many ailments; but the more extreme claim, which rules out the use of drugs in disease altogether, has naturally not been admitted. Modern professed disciples of Ling are divided, the representative of the more extreme section being Henrik Kellgren (b. 1837), who has a special school and following.

Ling and his earlier assistants left no proper written account of their treatment, and most of the literature on the subject is repudiated by one set or other of the gymnastic practitioners. Dr Anders Wide, M.D., of Stockholm, has published a Handbook of Medical Gymnastics (English edition, 1899), representing the more conservative practice. Henrik Kellgren's system, which, though based on Ling's, admittedly goes beyond it, is described in The Elements of Kellgren's Manual Treatment (1903), by Edgar F. Cyriax, who before taking the M.D. degree at Edinburgh had passed out of the Stockholm Institute as a "gymnastic director." See also the encyclopaedic work on Sweden: its People and Industry (1904), p. 34 8, edited by G. Sundbarg for the Swedish government.

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