Article Text

‘A Leg to Stand On’ by Oliver Sacks: a unique autobiographical account of functional paralysis
  1. Jon Stone1,
  2. Jo Perthen2,
  3. Alan J Carson3,4
  1. 1Department Clinical Neurosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2Newcastle University School of Medicine, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
  3. 3Department of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  4. 4Neurorehabilitation, Astley Ainslie Hospital, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jon Stone, Department Clinical Neurosciences, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, UK; jon.stone{at}


Oliver Sacks, the well known neurologist and writer, published his fourth book, ‘A Leg to Stand On’, in 1984 following an earlier essay ‘The Leg’ in 1982. The book described his recovery after a fall in a remote region of Norway in which he injured his leg. Following surgery to reattach his quadriceps muscle, he experienced an emotional period in which his leg no longer felt a part of his body, and he struggled to regain his ability to walk. Sacks attributed the experience to a neurologically determined disorder of body-image and bodyego induced by peripheral injury. In the first edition of his book Sacks explicitly rejected the diagnosis of ‘hysterical paralysis’ as it was then understood, although he approached this diagnosis more closely in subsequent revisions. In this article we propose that, in the light of better understanding of functional neurological symptoms, Sacks' experiences deserve to be reappraised as a unique insight in to a genuinely experienced functional/psychogenic leg paralysis following injury.

  • Neuropsychiatry
  • functional/psychogenic/medically unexplained /hysterical neurological
  • pseudoseizures
  • image analysis
  • head injury
  • rehabilitation

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Supplementary materials


  • See Editorial commentary, p 868 and p 869

  • Linked articles 303051, 302801.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Linked Articles