Though contemporary prosthetics are capable of much more than the prosthetics of the past, creating artificial body parts is not a new business. Records of ancient prosthesis can be found all over the world:
- In Egypt, archaeologists found a wood and leather prosthetic toe dating back nearly 3,000 years.
- Legend holds that Roman general Marcus Sergius wore an iron replacement hand during the Second Punic War.
- During the European medieval period, armored knights used iron prosthetics to conceal lost limbs.
- Some pirates actually did wear crudely fashioned hooks and peglegs.
- In the early 16th century, a French doctor named Ambroise Paré invented a hinged mechanical hand and prosthetic legs with locking knees and harnesses.
- Circa 1690, the Dutch surgeon Pieter Verduyn invented a hinged lower-leg prosthesis with a leather cuff.
- In 1812, the amputee community saw the first prosthetic arm to be operated by the muscles of the opposite shoulder.
Although modern materials and technologies have improved the way that prosthetic limbs look, feel and operate, their main components remain the same:
- The pylon is the metal framework that provides structural support. Currently, prosthetists built pylons from carbon-fiber composites. A pylon may be covered with a moldable foam material that can be tinted to match skin color.
- The socket is the part of the prosthesis that attaches to the stump or residual limb. A proper fit is essential to prevent irritation and skin damage.
- The suspension system holds the prosthesis in place against the body.
There will be many exciting developments in the future of prosthetic limb design. One promising technology for controlling prosthetic limbs is targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR), developed at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago by Dr. Todd Kuiken. TMR works by rerouting amputated nerves to another muscle in the body. For example, a surgeon may connect the nerves that controlled the amputated arm to a group of muscles somewhere in the trunk of the body. When the patient tries to move his or her arm, the signals traveling through the rerouted nerves cause the trunk muscles to contract. Electrodes connected to those muscles sense the activity and send control signals to the prosthetic limb. In this way, the patient moves the prosthetic arm by thinking about moving the amputated arm.
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