Prosthetics have been in use for thousands of years. Although early devices cannot be compared with contemporary ones, we know that ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Romans were able to replace missing body parts as long as 3,000 years ago.
The first milestone in the subsequent evolution of prosthetics was the introduction of the wooden peg leg, explained to MedicalExpo e-magazine Dr. Horst-Heinrich Aschoff, chief physician and head of the Endo-Exo Center at the Sana Klinik in Lübeck, Germany. The peg leg was used for centuries and can still be found in many countries today.
The first movable-hand prosthesis dates to the end of the Middle Ages. After losing an arm in battle, German knight Götz von Berlichingen had an iron hand made. He could use his intact hand to open and close the artificial one and position the fingers, thanks to built-in wheels and springs. At about the same time, French surgeon Ambroise Paré introduced the first leg prosthesis that could be properly attached to the remaining part of the leg.
War Triggered Progress
However, since members of society’s modest classes could not afford such elaborate aids, the peg leg and arm remained the solution of choice until the middle of the 19th century. It was the American Civil War and its hundreds of thousands of wounded soldiers that launched the industrial production of prosthetics. Government financing helped create a whole new manufacturing industry.
The American Civil War launched the industrial production of prosthetics.
In Europe, a similar evolution resulted from World War I. The industrial revolution allowed for large-scale production of prostheses. In 1917, German surgeon Ferdinand Sauerbruch revolutionized arm prosthetics by creating the first device that could be controlled by the muscles of the stump.
Prosthetics continued to evolve after the Second World War, after the demand rose enormously, and “because the introduction of synthetics marked another milestone after the introduction of the peg leg,” explained Dr. Aschoff. Today, Dr. Aschoff notes that medical progress has made it possible for people to move their prostheses via a direct link to the nervous system. “We need to take our hats off to what is possible today.”