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Orthopaedic surgery

A Thomas's hip splint on a patient, 1876.

A Thomas's hip splint on a patient, 1876.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

There are thousands of orthopaedic surgeons in the UK. Sub-specialities of orthopaedics include paediatrics, sports medicine and trauma. However, this large association had smaller beginnings. In 1894 a group of surgeons met in London and formed the British Orthopaedic Society. There were 31 members: 13 from London and 18 from around the country. However, the society had ceased to function by 1898. This was partly because, at that time, most orthopaedic surgeons did not specialise in one type of surgery. Instead many were general surgeons with an interest in orthopaedics. The American Orthopaedic Association, formed in 1887, did not disband as most of its members specialised in orthopaedic surgery. British orthopaedic surgeons tried to reform their society in 1918 after the First World War had established orthopaedic surgery as a specialism.

Orthopaedic surgeons had been very busy during the war. They had amputated many limbs and mended many broken bones, aided by a number of devices such as the Thomas splint, which allowed a bone to knit properly. After the war, fracture clinics were opened, tuberculosis of the joints was treated and orthopaedics became firmly established as one of the oldest specialisms in the UK.

Bibliography

R Cooter, Surgery and Society in Peace and War, Orthopaedics and the Organisation of Medicine 1880-1948 (London: Macmillan, 1993)

L Klenerman (ed.), The Evolution of Orthopaedic Surgery (London: Royal Society of Medicine Press, 2002)

Glossary:

Fracture

The breaking of a bone into two or more pieces

Tuberculosis

An infectious disease that is caused by a bacterium first identified by Robert Koch in 1882. The disease usually affects the lungs first, and is accompanied by a chronic cough.