Dr. Henry Head and lessons learned from his self-experiment on radial nerve transection: Historical vignette

Stephen M. Lenfest, Andreea Vaduva-Nemes, Michael S. Okun

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

In this paper the authors aim to review Dr. Henry Head's famous and dramatic nerve sectioning experiment. They discuss the implications of his experimental approach as well as the effect his experiment had on the field of neurology. Henry Head was a prominent British neurologist who contributed greatly to the understanding of the sensory examination through an experiment in which he had his own radial nerve transected. Head carefully documented the sensory changes following the sectioning. He hypothesized the existence of two separate sensory systems: protopathic and epicritic. Head was one of the first scientists to speculate on sensory dissociation, and his writings generated both enthusiasm and controversy. Although the ethical issue of self-experimentation was raised by his bold experiment and many aspects of his investigations and conclusions have been criticized, Head undoubtedly contributed important clinical lessons to neurology. Arguably, Henry Head's greatest contribution was the realization that the neurological portion of the sensory examination was anything but straightforward.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)529-533
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Volume114
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Ethics
  • Henry Head
  • History
  • Neurophysiology
  • Sensory examination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology

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