The evolution of orthopedics – Early orthopedics

The evolution of orthopedics – Early orthopedics

It was Dr. Nicholas Andry, a French surgeon, who coined the word Orthopedic when he wrote his book ‘Orthopedie’ or ‘The Art of Correcting and Preventing Deformities in Children’ in the year 1741. The word ‘Orthopedic’ actually comes from the Greek words ‘orthos’ meaning straight and ‘paidion’ meaning child. The subject has not left the noble founding idea, but it has rather extended its fundamental truth to the rest of humanity. The science, principally, continues to be the correction of musculoskeletal trauma necessitated by everyday injuries, sports traumas and other adventurous activities that are spirited humans indulge in. Unfortunately, as human lifespan increased, the diseases of the bones and muscles started deforming the joints. Furthermore, the wear and tear of the bones and muscles due to sustained long use also lead to the need to repair them and restore the joints to their usable state.

Disease, war and difficult times, in their destruction, push innovation to make better the society and the people affects. Throughout history, tough times have been breeding grounds for discovery and progress. It is during these hard times that the hands of innovation and invention are forced.

Early orthopedics
In the late 1800s came Hugh Owen Thomas, a surgeon from Wales, who was one of the greatest surgeons who pioneered great advancement in orthopedics in the early days and is also considered to be the ‘father of orthopedics’. Robert Jones Thomas, his nephew, was interested in orthopedics and bone setting from a very young age as well. After establishing his own practice, he expanded the field to the treatment and correction of fractures and other skeletomuscular diseases. Many of the methods and appliances he innovated and invented are in current use and are known after him. It was he who advocated long rest as one of the best methods of healing broken bones and it was the accepted norm till recently.

During the Vietnam war in the 1950s, American surgeons made refinements in the external fixations of fractures. However, an impactful development was the external distraction osteogenesis method developed by the Russian surgeon Dr. Gavril Abramovich Ilizarov in the 1950s. He was sent to Siberia to tend to the wounded soldiers. He found a large number of misaligned, unhealed and infected fractures, He did not have any resources but with the help of a local cycle, mechanic developed and external fixation which allowed him to realign and lengthen the bones to unheard of extents. The Ilizarov apparatus is still used as a distraction osteogenesis methods.

It was after this period that modern orthopedics was born.

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