History of sports medicine - 1501-1600


The French physician Symphorien Champier (1472-1539), who was the private doctor of the duke of Lorraine Antoine II (1489-1544) and practiced in Lyon, initiated the science of movement rehabilitation with his scientific works.


The French physician Jean François Fernel (1497-1558) introduced the term 'physiology' to describe the study of body functions. He was the first to describe the spinal canal. In 1525 he invented the first pedometer. The device had the form of a watch with four dials (units, tens, hundreds, thousands) all connected by a gear mechanism. The the device was fixed on the left side of a belt and the corresponding lever with a cord on the right knee. The cord pulled on the handle with each step and thus raise the lower needle. The needle on the dial of the tens advanced when the lower needle went from nine to zero.


The Spanish doctor Michel Servet (1509-1553) described the pulmonary circulation.


The Belgian physician and anatomist Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) published his 'De Corporis Humani Fabrica Libri Septem', which would have an enormous influence on later studies.


The book described the anatomy of various organs and also attempted to give a brief description of the function, it was the start of modern anatomy and physiology.


The French physician Ambroise Paré (1509-1590), one of the greatest surgeons of the Renaissance, was regarded as an innovative spirit who thoroughly changed a number of medical treatments. He was a surgeon of the French kings Henry II (1519-1559), Francois II (1544-1560), Charles IX (1550-1574) and Henry III (1551-1589).

He developed many orthopedic devices and was a fierce advocate of movement rehabilitation.


In 1553, the Spanish physician Cristobal Mendez (1500-1562) published his first book 'El Libro del Ejercicio Corporal y Sus Provechos', which focused exclusively on physical exercise and its benefits. In the book, exercises, games and sports were classified, analyzed and described from a medical point of view, and advice was given on the prevention and recovery of injuries resulting from physical activities. Several chapters even gave specific advice for women, children and the elderly. Thus Mendez posited:

"The doctor must organize the life of his patient and arrange the so-called natural things such as eating and drinking, defecation and memory, sleeping and awakening, movement and rest, and the soul's passions and the alteration of the air."

He further argued that

"If we use exercises under the conditions that we will describe, it deserves towering praise as a blessed medicine to be held in high regard."


The Polish Professor Joseph Struthius (1510-1568), the private physician of the Hungarian queen Isabella Jagiellonica (1519-1559) and the Polish king Sigismund Augustus (1520-1572), taught Medicine at the University of Padua. He was the first to present a graphic image of the pulse and introduced the concept of a device that could mechanically register the pulse. In his 366-page monograph 'Sphygmicae artis iam mille ducentos annos perditae et desideratae Libri V' he described his experiences with the pulse. The work covered five books with types of pulse, their diagnosis, their aetiology and their prognostic value as a subject. After the Greeks he introduced the definition of the pulse:

"The pulse is a function that begins at the heart when the arteries are in motion by the diastole and systole ...."

He described the palpable method of the pulse very precisely, but the most innovative was that he used light objects to observe the movements of arteries. He made the distinction between a simple and a complex pulse. The description of the first type was based on the size of the systole, the quality of the movement, the length of the break, the strength of the pulse and the quality of the artery. All together he distinguished fifteen types of simple pulse. He also described the influence of heat on the pulse.


To drain water from the mines, people had to walk on a treadmill.


The French physician Hiérosme de Monteux de Méribel (1495-1560) published his 'Commentaire de la conservation de la santé et de la prolongation de la vie' (Comment on the conservation of health and the extension of life), in which he promoted physical exercise to cure disease.


The German physician Georg Pictorius (1500-1569) wrote 'Hantbüchlein von den sieben Things, so die Arzt natürlich Ding benennet' (Handbook of the seven things a doctor calls natural) based on medical writings from antiquity, but also with newly developed advice.

Another important work was 'Das Badenfahrt-Büchlein' from 1560 with a description of balneotherapy in 38 different sanctuaries. The balneotherapy (derived from the Latin balneum, meaning 'bad') is the treatment of diseases with baths, especially in so-called spas. Although different from  hydrotherapy, there are overlaps with it. Balneotherapy can be performed in warm or cold water, consists of massage in moving water, relaxation or stimulation. Many spas are rich in minerals (sodium, magnesium, calcium, iron, arsenic, lithium, potassium, manganese, bromine, iodine, silicon dioxide, sulfur, selenium or radium) that can be absorbed through the skin. Medical clay is also regularly used, the well-known 'fangotherapy'. The term "balneotherapy" is used for any spa treatment, including drinking the water and the use of hot baths and natural steam baths, as well as the use of various mud and sand types for hot applications. Balneotherapy is recommended in a wide range of diseases, such as arthritis, skin diseases and fibromyalgia.


The painting 'The Tower of Babel' by Pieter Breugel the Elder (1525-1569) shows a double treadmill with a crane attached to it ..


In 1569 the Italian philologist and physician Girolamo Mercuriale (1530- 1606) wrote the first sports medicine book 'Libri de arte gymnastica'. His studies in Rome's libraries, focused on the ancients' believes toward diet, exercise and hygiene and the use of natural methods for the cure of diseases.

It was the first book to describe the principles of physical therapy and sports medicine. Without doubt the most thorough and most memorable publication of its kind that was reprinted six times. Mercurialis challenged the mistaken assumption that a healthy person did not need exercise. He was also in favor of moderation at sports competitions.
One of his quotes:

"Exercise is a conscious and planned movement of the human body, accompanied by shortness of breath and done for health or fitness ..."


Inspired by the work of Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), the Italian surgeon and anatomist Hieronymus Fabricius (1537-1619) suggested that the pulling power of the muscles originated in the tendon fibers. It was only with the invention of the microscope in 1660 by the Dutch anatomist Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) that people became aware that the muscles also consisted of fibers.


The Italian physician and mathematician Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576) wrote his 'Opus Sanitate tuenda', which not only contained material from earlier authors but was also based on his own experiences, since he was one of the few doctors who practiced sport himself. It was remarkable that he did not question the long-overdue ideas and wrong notions of Asclepiades (124-40 BC) that stated that physical exercise was for healthy people, but not for the sick and recovering.


The British physician Timothy Bright (1551-1616) held a practice in Ipswich, but also taught at the University of Cambridge. In 1581 he published his first book 'Hygieina', in which he emphasized the importance of diet and body hygiene for health. He described food products and beverages, gave advice on the composition of a meal and adapted seasonal diets, but also on climatic conditions. He also gave the advice to bathe, to do exercises and to be massaged.


Mercurialis Laurent Joubert (1529-1582), a French professor, surgeon and chancellor at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Montpellier, published the work 'Liber de gymnasiis et generibus exercitationum apud antiquos celebrium liber unso', in which he expressed his preference for physical exercise under medical supervision, both in healthy and in sick patients.


Li Shizhen (1518-1593), a Chinese physician from the Ming Dynasty, published eleven books including 'Binhu Maixue' a study on the pulse, with the description of 27 different types of pulse.


A pedometer from 1590 that was used in southern Germany.


A drawing from 1595 of a loins massage.