As you can probably imagine, the use of prosthetics in medicine has come a long way over the last several centuries.
The first known prosthetic limb dates back to ancient Roman times when Marcus Sergius, a Roman General, lost his right hand while doing battle in the Punic War. As the story goes, a replacement hand was crafted out of iron so that he could continue to hold his shield and return to battle. This may seem like an unsophisticated way to approach a lost limb, but you may be surprised to learn that prosthetic limbs have changed very little throughout the course of history – that is, up until very recently.
Considering what little changed in the field of prosthetic limbs in the last 2,000 years, it is truly astonishing to think about how much has changed in recent years.
Prosthetic limbs have been developed out of basic materials such as wood and metal, and held together with leather fasteners since ancient times. More recently, we have switched to advanced plastics which are much lighter and far more functional. Researchers have also developed a stretchable material which acts as an artificial skin that senses touch, pressure, moisture, and could be used to give artificial limbs feeling in the future.
Early prosthetic limbs were not necessarily designed with usability in mind. That is because in the past, the purpose of a prosthetic limb was usually cosmetic only. Today, prosthetic limbs are more lifelike and functional than ever. Some can even be controlled via electrodes placed on the surface of the skin, creating a more natural range of movement.
The introduction of anesthesia was a game changer for prosthetics. Why? Because it gives doctors the ability to perform longer, more detailed surgeries to prepare the patient for a prosthetic limb. By the same token, this increased the success rates of amputations and thus, the need for prosthetic limbs became more prevalent. In fact, after World War II, the American government invested in an Artificial Limb Program that was dedicated to the advancement of the science of prosthetic limb development.
This is just a short list of innovative advancements that have occurred in the field of prosthetics – particularly within the last few decades. What’s more, we anticipate even more breakthroughs in the coming years.