Permanent Prosthesis: Evolving Technology and Culture

prosthetics, permanent prosthesis, artificial limbsPermanent prosthesis has come a long way since its earliest inceptions traced as far back as Ancient Egypt. It has evolved in its application, technology and the way cultures have embraced the art of prosthetics.

The First Permanent Prosthesis in History

The earliest example was that of a wooden toe made approximately between 950-710 BCE for an Ancient Egyptian woman. Without one’s big toe you could not wear traditional Ancient Egyptian footwear, which was sandals. A wooden big toe was made so that the woman could not only feel whole again and not shunned by society but it was a much cheaper option than creating a new kind of shoe. This goes to show that functionality as well as a sense of “wholeness” is what makes the art of permanent prosthesis and artificial limbs so crucial to humans who have experienced loss via amputation or injury.

War: Directly Impacting the Need for Artificial Limbs

By the 16th century, war was common and many soldiers would return home having suffered terrible injuries like losing entire limbs and appendages. Ambroise Paré developed new means of performing amputations as well as fitting patients with prosthetics. Paré developed the first hinged prosthetic hand as well as a leg with a locking knee joint that acted as permanent prosthesis.

By the time the American Civil War broke out, the destruction gun powder made possible became morbidly clear. James Hanger, the first soldier to undergo amputation on the battelfield, invented the most prospective prosthetic design the world had ever seen. The “Hanger Limb” sported hinged joints at the knee and ankles for optimum mobility. His name is still held in a high regard among professional prosthetists to this day.

The World of Prosthetics Today

Living as an amputee in the 21st century is not completely unlike that of those in the past. However, the solutions made available by artificial limbs and prosthetic professionals has evolved exponentially. The focus has remained the same since the first wooden toe made in Ancient Egypt: Aesthetic, Wholeness and Function.

Artificial limbs are made to suit an aesthetic, some people choose flesh colours as not to stick out in a crowd. Others embrace their “other” means of gaining “wholeness” and decorate their prosthetics with elaborate designs and colours.

The functionality of permanent prosthesis has undergone a true Renaissance in the digital age. Technology has been used to create independently moving digits for hands and there are even leg prosthetics that read the ground level to adjust the resistance of a prosthetic knee before adjusting the gait. An article in The Herald predicts that the powered prosthetics industry will only continue to grow. It suggests there will be a shift to using titanium as the choice metal and prosthetics may become cheaper to produce if they can maintain a market for body powered prosthetics.

With amazing innovations being discovered and applied for amputees around the world every day, we can only dream of what will be possible in the future. Contact Meintjes & Neethling to discover what we can do for you.