Those of us lucky enough to have good health and all of our fingers, toes, arms and legs often take these things for granted. The many parts of our bodies work well together, and we usually don’t give them a second thought.
Have you ever wondered what life would be like without one of the important parts of your body, though? How would your life change if you had only one arm? What would your daily routine be like if you had only one leg?
Many people live their daily lives without the benefit of one or more parts of their bodies. There are many reasons for this.
Some people are born without certain parts of their bodies. Others might have accidents or suffer from diseases that result in the loss of a limb.
When these things happen, these people lose more than just a part of themselves. They also lose the functionality that was associated with that part of their bodies.
Certain tasks may now be impossible. Many other tasks may be much more difficult.
Thanks to artificial body parts — called “prosthetics” (plural) — people can now regain many of the functions of missing limbs. A prosthesis (singular) rarely provides the same level of functionality of a biological limb. However, the capabilities it can provide can significantly improve the life of the user.
Although Benjamin Franklin Palmer received a patent for the artificial leg in 1846, prosthetics have been around for much longer than that. Ancient stories and poems contain references to prosthetic limbs.
Ancient Greek and Roman texts also offer evidence that artificial limbs were used thousands of years ago. For example, historians have found ancient Roman texts that describe Roman General Marcus Sergius.
He lost his right hand in battle. He had a replacement hand made out of iron, so he could hold his shield. He then returned to battle to continue fighting.
In 2000, researchers in Egypt found what they believe is the oldest artificial body part ever found. It was a prosthetic toe made out of wood and leather.
They found it attached to the mummified remains of an Egyptian noblewoman — who died almost 3,000 years ago!
Perhaps the most famous prosthetic devices from history come from pirate lore. Peg legs and metal “hands” shaped like hooks were actually early prosthetic devices that were quite popular for many years.
Today, modern prosthetics continue to evolve and develop. New materials, like advanced plastics and carbon-fiber composite materials, have allowed prosthetics to become lighter, stronger and more realistic.
Advanced electronics have also made today’s prosthetics more functional. Some artificial limbs can be controlled electronically to allow users to function as if the artificial limb were real.
Prosthetics have advanced to the point where some athletes can compete at a professional level with artificial limbs. Benjamin Franklin Palmer probably never imagined that one day there would be Olympic runners using artificial limbs to compete on a level equal to athletes with biological limbs.