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Innovations in Orthopaedics

Up until the 20th century, orthopaedic injuries were very difficult to treat. Severe fractures and corrective surgeries often caused infections, many of which could prove fatal.  

English surgeon Sir Joseph Lister, the inspiration for the founding of Johnson & Johnson, performed the first successful antiseptic treatment of a compound fracture in 1865, saving the life of a young boy.  

Thirty years later, when Revra DePuy founded the world’s first orthopaedics company – the DePuy Manufacturing Company – in 1895, he changed the treatment of orthopaedic injuries forever. Producing the first fitted splints to properly heal broken limbs, he replaced improvised splinting methods with effective medical tools. Johnson & Johnson also contributed to the emerging field. Through its sterile surgical products and wide-ranging first aid manuals teaching American medical professionals and families the importance of antiseptic emergency care, proper first aid, and their techniques, the company helped to improve early orthopaedic care. Today, the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies is home to the world’s most comprehensive portfolio of orthopaedic and neurological products.

Splints were common during the American Civil War when advanced weapons and artillery easily shattered bones. Soldiers, like this private, were plagued with orthopaedic injuries that often outlasted the war..

Image courtesy: National Museum of Health and Medicine, Otis Historical Archives

By the late 1800s, the factories and railroads that powered American industry relied on heavy machinery to run. Thus, the men and women who worked in factories and built railroads came in contact with dangerous and heavy industrial equipment. Accidents occurred daily—crushed bones were among the most common injuries. While factories were located in cities, railroad construction brought laborers to isolate areas. Medical care was often hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. When injuries occurred, fellow workers used whatever supplies they had to stabilize limbs and stop bleeding, these materials were more often than not unsterile, so they introduced germs and infection. 

The growing problem of industrial accidents brought orthopaedic trauma treatment to the forefront of medical care. Among the field’s pioneers was Revra DePuy, who produced one of the world’s first mass-made splints. The splints, which could be customized for unique injuries, were the first to be produced from sterile materials. Soon after, Johnson & Johnson began manufacturing their own metallic splints—a natural extension of the company’s already robust first aid business. Made from perforated bronze sheet and plated nickel, the splints were made for each limb, and in some cases, designed for a particular type of fracture. These splints could be washed, boiled, or steam-sterilized for reuse, thus preventing the introduction of life-threatening infections.

Johnson & Johnson’s splints hit the market in 1905.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

The 20th century witnessed continued innovation in orthopaedic trauma and new solutions for aging joints. The invention of new materials, like plastic, coupled with advances in science led to the development of the first artificial joints. Revolutionary surgical techniques offered new and more effective treatments for spinal abnormalities, severally broken bones, and other musculoskeletal and neurological problems. Focused on complicated fractures and the treatment of traumatic orthopaedic injuries, Synthes was founded in Switzerland the 1960s. Its primary area of production centered on internal fixation implants (metal implants surgically attached to bones to stabilize them after a fracture is incurred). Simultaneously, DePuy made similar products in addition to pioneering hip and knee replacement. In 1985, DePuy introduced the LCS® Total Knee System, then the only mobile bearing knee system, which was designed to move like a normal knee.

As the companies grew, Johnson & Johnson, DePuy, and Synthes consistently led the industry in orthopaedic treatments and techniques. In 1998, Johnson & Johnson acquired DePuy, bringing together some of the greatest minds in field. Fourteen years later, in 2012, Synthes joined Johnson & Johnson. Together, DePuy Synthes tackles some of the toughest problems in the orthopaedics industry. Today, their joint reconstruction, sports medicine, and facial fracture repair technologies can be found in hospitals, clinics, and sports arenas across the world.

This is the LCS® Total Knee System.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

Whether an injury results from an accident or gradual wear and tear, orthopaedic traumas have always presented unique challenges for physicians and surgeons. Modern scientific innovation that began in the late 1800s has advanced far from its origins. Today, doctors can effectively and safely replace joints and surgically stabilize broken bones and other orthopaedic injuries. At the heart of this field is Johnson & Johnson. With DePuy Synthes, the company now oversees the world’s most cutting-edge and all-encompassing orthopaedics business. That business enables people the world over to live more pain-free, productive, and active lives.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

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