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History of Negative Pressure Wound Therapy

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition and Anatomy courses for several years. He has a B.S. in Exercise Physiology from Furman University and a M.S. in Dietetics & Nutrition from Florida International University. He is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C)

Negative pressure wound therapy involves using a vacuum dressing to help promote wound healing. Learn about the history of negative pressure wound therapy and how this treatment was established.

Improving Wound Healing One Vacuum at a Time

Meet Brian. Brian has been a firefighter for over 15 years. During a recent shift, Brian and his fellow firefighters were called to put out of fire in a nearby home of a family of four. These heroic firefighters were able to successfully extinguish the fire and save the family; however, Brian suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns on his hands and arms in the process. While in the hospital, Brian was surprised when the doctors and nurses attached vacuums to his wound bandages and dressings. Brian was even more surprised when after only a few weeks of receiving this vacuum wound therapy, his wounds had healed and he was back to work fighting fires and protecting lives.

Negative-pressure wound therapy (NPWT) is medical technique that promotes healing by applying a vacuum to a special air-tight dressing, which continually draws out fluid from the wound as well as improves blood flow to the damaged skin and tissue. This treatment technique, which actually can be traced back to ancient times, has quickly increased in usage over the past couple decades.

Negative pressure wound therapy involves attaching a vacuum to sealed dressings to improve healing
Negative pressure wound therapy

Negative Pressure Wound Therapy in Ancient Times

The use of NPWT can be dated back to the earliest civilizations. However, in these ancient times, NPWT did not involve electric vacuums because, obviously, these were not invented yet. Instead of vacuums, ancient men would use their mouths to create the negative pressure by sucking the wound. This sucking action continually drew fluid from the wounds and increased blood flow to the wound, much like the modern day vacuum system, although much less sanitary.

This technique of sucking wounds to promote wound healing continued into the Roman Era. The Roman Era in history was filled with many battles where thousands of people suffered serious wounds and injuries. In order to help treat these battle wounds, armies would have special medical personnel who would suck the wounds of the injured soldiers in order to improve healing.

Eventually, the technique of using one's mouth to suck the wounds was replaced by the technique of using dome-shaped cupping glasses to create the suction needed to promote healing. In order to create the suction when using these cupping, a heat source, such as a lit match, was placed inside the cups before it was placed on the body. The suction of the cup would increase as the heat source cooled off.

These glass cups were suctioned over wounds to help promote healing during the 1800 and 1900
Glass cupping

19th Century Negative Pressure Wound Therapy

The use of cupping glasses to improve wound healing was used throughout the 19th century. However, many technical advances were made that greatly improved this type of wound therapy. In 1821, a British physician named Dr. Francis Fox invented the Glass Leech. The Glass Leech was very similar to the old glass cupping, but the cup was much wider and hung off the body very similar to the way leeches hung off the body. By the 1890's, the glass cups were being made in many different sizes and shapes which allowed these cupping systems to be used in various parts of the body and for wounds of varying sizes and shapes.

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