What Is The History Behind Prosthetics?

Prosthetics have not only changed history, but they also change millions of lives each year. People who would have otherwise been limited in a multitude of ways are now able to live normal, productive, fulfilling lives thanks to their prosthetics. Let’s take a quick look at the history of prosthetics.

When Was the Prosthetic Invented?

Prosthetics, as we know them, are a fairly modern invention. However, the idea of prosthetics has been around for quite some time. You may be wondering what was the first known prosthetic. The first mention of a fake body part in recorded history would be a prosthetic big toe that was worn by an Egyptian noblewoman. An individual can certainly live a normal life without a big toe, so it is easy to assume this was for cosmetic reasons.

There is really no way to pinpoint the exact date when prosthetics were invented because humans have always been trying to solve the problem of a missing limb. During the Dark Ages, knights in armor would use prosthetics made of iron. In many cases, these limbs would be crafted in such a way as to match their armor. This was probably not the most functional type of prosthetic as it would have been heavy and difficult to maneuver. However, a missing limb was considered a great embarrassment to this class of citizens, so the awkward prosthetic would still be an improvement.

You can’t discuss the history of prosthetics without a nod to the peg-leg pirates of the past. Stories abound of pirates and other sea-faring characters who sported wooden legs or metal hooks for hands. Although hooks and peg legs may seem cool in the movies, the truth is, in most cases, these men would have undergone a painful amputation, probably at the hands of the ship’s cook rather than a doctor and most likely without anesthesia. After going through all of that, you can understand why they wore that peg leg proudly.

The Father of Prosthetics

The credit for the modern prosthetic goes to French barber/surgeon Ambroise Pare. He is also sometimes thought of as the father of modern surgery as well. He spent his life improving amputation techniques and increasing the survival rates during war. His deep understanding of anatomy helped him design prosthetics that were visually pleasing and functional. Pare also took prosthetics away from traditional wooden pieces and began incorporating lighter materials such as leather, glue, and even paper.

Modern Prosthetics

Following World War 2, the US supplied adequate funding to the American Prosthetics and Orthotics Association to create truly modern prosthetics. The intention was to initially help wounded soldiers returning home from the war. The advances that were made during this time were foundational to all modern prosthetics that are used today. One of the most important advances was the invention of the suction sock used for above-the-knee prosthetics. This was invented at UC Berkley in 1946.

Today, with the further advancement of neuroprosthetics, doctors and scientists are closer than ever to the realization of truly brain-controlled prosthetics for those who are missing a limb.

When was the prosthetic invented? What was the first known prosthetic?