The history of orthotics dates back to the earliest times, possibly even during the vaguest periods of prehistory, when primitive humans first discovered that they could set broken bones with splints made from wood and secured with cord or sinew. The practice was strongly associated in ancient times with the ever-present threat of warfare.
Because battles inevitably resulted in grave injury, and most forms of injuries that were deemed ‘non-lethal’ involved blunt trauma and broken bones, thanks to hacking weapons and cudgels, the early orthotic surgeons definitely had their work cut out for them and where called ‘bone-setters’. Primitive and mediaeval forms of orthotics usually relied on extremely rudimentary methods of bone-setting, often involving grueling and painful surgery, without any type of numbing agent or anesthetic.
Later on, the development of specialised tools helped to improve the recovery rate of patients. While the European standards of orthotic surgery still left much to be desired, their predecessors from the Middle East and India somehow managed to perfect their practice to the best of their capacity, given the limitations of their time in comparison.
In Europe and Outremer – an old name for places such as the Levant, Palestine, and Jerusalem, orthotic practices walked hand-in-hand with prosthetics. Although, the technological advancements of the time left much to be desired with regards to ‘functional’ prosthetics. With the advent of the Dark Ages came a very significant decline in the quality of bone-setting practices, having degenerated largely into what can best be termed ‘professional charlatanry’.
With the dawn of Enlightenment came ‘some’ degree of improvement in the field, although any significant leaps in the science of orthotic surgery did not really come about until well into the latter days of the Industrial Revolution. The 20th century spelled a new age for orthotic, orthopaedic, and prosthetic sciences, which later came to be integrated into a single cohesive practice.
The arrival of the First, and Second, World Wars ushered in an era of advancements never before seen since the time of the Ayurvedic masters of India, and the classical Greek physicians. A renewed fervor to understand the proper workings of muscle, sinew, bone, and tissue, as well as improved tools and the now standardised employment of anaesthetics, made it possible for the practice to advance further.
Today, the practice of orthotics has evolved to encompass what several decades ago would have been deemed impossible, and it will certainly continue to make leaps forward for many decades to come.