Ancient health practices have certainly left us more grateful for modern medical advances. The horrific instruments, harmful medication, and strange rituals of the past are enough to make a healthy man sick, leave cure them.
But, just like everything else in the Universe, it wasn’t all bad. While some of these practices were scary and strange, they were also very effective. A new development in medical science occurred in the latter half of the Middle Ages.
Before penicillin, anesthesia, and “germaphobia,” the medical profession relied on an arsenal of leeches, maggots, screws, saws, nasal hooks, and other terrible methods to treat patients. Which of these ancient health practices is still practiced today, and how have they evolved? Only the brave will find the answers!
Ancient health practices That Are Still In Use Today
1. MAGGOT THERAPY
This type of medicine is both fascinating and stomach-turning. The Old Testament contains the earliest documented use of maggot therapy, and its utility has continued throughout history. Army medics during the American Civil War found that maggots, like their ancient counterparts, were an effective tool for cleaning wounds. The fly’s larvae were inserted into a wound and allowed to feed on dead flesh, dissolving the unwanted tissue and any infectious bacteria.
Modern Application: Larval Debridement Therapy
Maggot treatment is used in modern medicine in the same way that the ancients used it. Medical maggots come in tea bag-sized packages at hospitals. This allows doctors to apply as many as they need to the open wound.
Maggots, interestingly, secrete an enzyme that only digests dead tissue. It leaves healthy tissues untouched. This enzyme enables doctors to administer the treatment without fear of causing excessive tissue damage. Maggot therapy is now largely used on wounds with large surface areas.
2. TRANSSPHENOIDAL SURGERY
To prepare bodies for mummification, Egyptians’ ancient health practices used a crude version of transsphenoidal surgery. The removal of all organs from the body was required as part of the mummification process. They soon realized that the easiest way to access the brain was through the nose. And this became their primary method of extracting that organ from the body.
Modern civilization has moved on from mummification. But, the concept of transsphenoidal surgery is still medically relevant. Modern doctors use the nose as an access point to remove brain tumors. And it has become the most common method for removing pituitary gland tumors.
The medieval medical practice (pharyngotomy, laryngotomy, or bronchotomy) has existed since ancient Egyptian times. But, the first successful case was not recorded until 1546. The process (tracheotomy) makes a hole in the trachea to allow for direct airflow. It is used where there is airway obstruction, and there is no time to address the obstruction before suffocation.
The ancient health practices rarely used the medical practice of fear slicing through the carotid artery that runs through the neck. However, legend has it that around 1000 B.C., Alexander the Great saved a soldier from suffocation by making an incision in his trachea with his sword. Tracheotomies were done only in the early Middle Ages’ direst of emergencies. They were often unsuccessful.
The technique developed along with our knowledge of human anatomy. To reduce the carotid’s odds, doctors started using a vertical incision rather than a horizontal one. Additional surgical advancements and proper post-operative care gave rise to modern application. This now has a very low death rate and has saved countless lives.
4. LEECH THERAPY
This ancient health practice, also known as “bloodletting,” dated back to 800 B.C. and Greeks popularized it.
Years ago, the ancient Greeks realized that “a healthy mind in a healthy body” was the secret to human physical and mental wellness. The Greeks thought that an imbalance of the blood humor caused many common diseases and that removing some blood would restore balance and cure illnesses.
Leech treatment, a popular bloodletting method, used leeches to control blood elimination from the human body. It has been around for hundreds of years. But it came to fame during the Renaissance as classical culture and ideas reemerged.
Modern Application: Hirudotherapy
Bloodletting is no longer commonly used in modern medicine. But, leech therapy is still a surprisingly effective microsurgery treatment for skin grafts and reconstructive surgery procedures.
Leech therapy is often used during surgical procedures that include a high risk of soft tissue loss due to deadening to maintain and reconnect healthy tissues.
Medical leeching promotes tissue regeneration and prevents tissue death. Leech saliva acts as an anticoagulant. This allows blood to flow through the severed tissue to the newly introduced connective tissues. When blood clots near a wound or incision, it creates dead flesh that cannot attach to the supplied living tissue. When surgeons have to remove a large amount of dead tissue, the surgery becomes more difficult. Leeching maintains tissue health during lengthy and difficult surgeries where tissue deadening is a concern.
5. CESAREAN SECTION
The early Romans used this ancient medical practice to increase birth rates and increase the general population. Only when the mother was dead or dying was a cesarean section to save the child’s life. During this time, doctors felt women couldn’t survive the process and used it as a last option to save newborns. Because the mother was not expected to live, the surgical procedure remained rudimentary and crude. Doctors were exclusively concerned with saving the baby before the mother died.
The arrival of the Renaissance brought with it a new understanding of human anatomy. Detailed illustrations of human anatomy provided previously unknown depths of insight in the medical field. The new information provided physicians with the foundation they needed to improve their biological skills.
Both the women and their infants should survive a cesarean section, according to medical experts. Attempts to achieve this goal were not always successful. But the 1800s ushered in a period of higher access to cadavers. Individual doctors were able to dissect the human body and hone their surgical abilities due to the cadavers. The commonly used procedure is now a highly effective medical practice. This accounts for nearly one-third of all births (approximately 1.3 million per year) as of 2017. Modern cesarean sections have a very low maternal mortality rate due to medical advancements.
Trepanation is one of the most surprising medieval medical procedures in modern culture. A hole is drilled into the skull of a living human during the process. The most common medical reason for trepanation, according to scientists, was to relieve pain from skull trauma or neurological disease. They’ve also discovered evidence that the technique was often ritualistic and was used to release evil spirits from the body in some cultures.
Modern Application: Burr Hole
Today, physicians use a type of trepanation known as a burr hole to relieve pressure on the brain caused by fluid buildup (intracranial pressure), often caused by head trauma.
The burr hole is created by making an incision in the scalp and then using a surgical drill. They make another incision in the dura, the tough film covering the brain, to drain the excess fluid. The dura is then surgically closed, the burr hole is covered with a small metal plate, and the scalp is stitched. The procedure does not affect the patient. They must simply care for the surgical site to promote healing and avoid infection.
The Bottom Line
These ancient health practices may be old. But they are still used today because they have proven effective. It seems that ancient procedures aren’t so old after all. It looks that the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is True.”