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Hippocrates: The Father of Spine Surgery

Marketos, Spyros G., MD; Skiadas, Panagiotis, MD

Historical Perspective

Hippocrates (5th\N4th century B.C.), the founder of scientific medicine, left a valuable heritage of knowledge and methodology, which extends to almost all branches of modern medicine. Among the many fields of medicine he explored, he devoted much of his scientific interest to the study of orthopedics. In fact, some of the principles found in the Hippocratic treatises On Fracturesand On Joints are still valid today. This great physician also was the first to deal with the anatomy and the pathology of human spine. In his books, he provides a precise description of the segments and the normal curves of the spine, the structure of the vertebrae, the tendons attached to them, the blood supply to the spine, and even its anatomic relations to adjacent vessels. The Hippocratic list of spinal diseases includes tuberculous spondylitis, post-traumatic kyphosis, scoliosis, concussion, dislocations of the vertebrae, and fractures of the spinous processes. Hippocrates devised two apparatuses, known as the Hippocratic ladder and the Hippocratic board, to reduce displaced vertebrae. Those pioneer methods are deemed to be the precursors to the sophisticated techniques used in spine surgery today. Because of his thorough study of spinal diseases and their management, which was the first such study in orthopedics in the history of medicine, Hippocrates should be regarded as the father of spine surgery.

From the Department of History of Medicine, Athens University Medical School, Athens, Greece.

Acknowledgment date: December 23, 1997.

Acceptance date: January 8, 1998.

Address reprint requests to

Professor Spyros Marketos

20 Patriarchou Ioakim Street

10675 Athens


© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.