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Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 Aug;467(8):2168-91. doi: 10.1007/s11999-009-0738-5. Epub 2009 Feb 14.

Treatment of war wounds: a historical review.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO, USA.


The treatment of war wounds is an ancient art, constantly refined to reflect improvements in weapons technology, transportation, antiseptic practices, and surgical techniques. Throughout most of the history of warfare, more soldiers died from disease than combat wounds, and misconceptions regarding the best timing and mode of treatment for injuries often resulted in more harm than good. Since the 19th century, mortality from war wounds steadily decreased as surgeons on all sides of conflicts developed systems for rapidly moving the wounded from the battlefield to frontline hospitals where surgical care is delivered. We review the most important trends in US and Western military trauma management over two centuries, including the shift from primary to delayed closure in wound management, refinement of amputation techniques, advances in evacuation philosophy and technology, the development of antiseptic practices, and the use of antibiotics. We also discuss how the lessons of history are reflected in contemporary US practices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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