History of sports medicine - 1751-1780


Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771) was an Italian anatomist, generally regarded as the father of modern anatomical pathology, who taught thousands of medical students from many countries during his 56 years as Professor of Anatomy at the University of Padua. His most significant literary contribution, the monumental five-volume On the Seats and Causes of Disease, embodied a lifetime of experience in anatomical dissection and observation, and established the fundamental principle that most diseases are not vaguely dispersed throughout the body, but originate locally, in specific organs and tissues.


In his book 'Emile' Swiss phylosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) argued that men had to exercise both their minds and bodies and that those men who had livest longer were those who had taken most exercise.


The study of the anatomical specimen was in London introduced into surgery by the Scottich surgeon John Hunter (1728-1793), one of the most distinguished scientists and surgeons of his day. With Hunter, surgery became a 'real' science, replenished with ideas drawn from comparative anatomy and pathology. Hunter's approach was based on Hippocratic principles. He ruptured his Achilles tendon while dancing and observed that the proximal portion was retracted a considerable distance and the gap between the ends became breached by simple connective tissue which supplied sufficient strength to restore good function to the ruptured tendon. He stated:

"The only rational means of treatment are those which are based on the natural recuperative power of the body."


Swiss anatomist, physiologist, naturalist and poet Albrecht Von Haller (1708-1777) studied at Leyden with Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738) and wrote a most comprehensive treatise of eight volumes on 'Elements of Physiology of the Human Body' which appeared in the middle of the 18th century. Haller investigated the tendency of the muscle fibers to shorten with a stimulus, and afterwards to expand again to their normal length. This capacity for contraction Haller called irritability:

"A very slight stimulus produces a movement altogether out of proportion to itself and continues to do this repeatedly as long as the fiber remains alive."

Haller noted that stimulus of the muscle contracture came from the nerves. Haller also showed that the tissues themselves are not capable of sensation, but that the nerves are the sole channels or instruments of this process. In his book 'Experiments on the Formation of Bone', Haller describes the growth of bone in fowl embryos and young chicks. The bone forms not from the periosteum, but from the soft cartilaginous tissue and from those tissues that surround the primordial nucleus of ossification. Haller also studied healing fractures in chickens and pigeons and observed the exceptional vascularity of the reparative tissues around the fracture and finally ascribed actual osteogenic properties to the newly formed vessels. To Haller, who lived almost a century before the introduction of cellular histology, bone was a substance deposited in tissue rather than the product of local cellular activity.


Swiss physician Johan von Zimmerman (1728-1795) argued that a good state of mind was dependent on the air, diet and on sufficient physical exercise.


After his 'Avis au peuple sur la santé' ('Advice to the people about health') from 1761, Swiss doctor Simon-André Tissot (1728-1797), who was also a professor at the University of Padua, published a second book 'Von der Krankheiten vornehmer und Reicher Personen an Höfen und in grossen Städten' (On Illnesses of Noble and Rich Persons in Courts and Big Towns). Tissot fought against being home and lack of exercise, and he pleaded for frequent activities in open air.


The Scottish physician William Buchan (1729-1805) published his popular 'Domestic Medicine', in which he stated:

"Of all causes that work together to make the life of man short and miserable, none has more influence than the need for good practice."

And also:

"Practicing alone would prevent many unhealed illnesses and would eliminate others where medicine is fruitless."


Johann August Unzer (1727-1799) was a German physician whose work on the central nervous system, reflexes and consciousness impacted modern physiological studies The first use of the word ‘reflex’ with reference to motor reactions was used by Unzer in 1771.



Influenced by the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) about the 'Nature Humaine', the German theologian, pedagogue, philanthropist and writer Johann Bernard Basedow (1724-1790) (pictured) opened his Philanthropinum in Dessau. In this pedagogical setting the emphasis was on physical exercise and sport, including wrestling, running, riding, fencing, and dancing. Even the school uniforms, which at that time were often heavy and oppressive, were made more comfortable to give the students greater freedom of movement.


The French chemist Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier (1743-1794) discovered that animals confined in a closed space, extracted oxygen from the air of that space and produced carbon dioxide.


Swiss horologist Abraham-Louis Perrelet (1729-1826) from the city of Le Locle near Neuchâtel developed a combination of a pedometer and a self-winding watch in 1777.

The watch was equipped with an internal and motion-sensitive mechanism, which was worn in the jacket pocket and reacted to the movements of the test subject. It could run for eight days and was recharged within eight to fifteen minutes by walking around.


The Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) claimed that he could heal sick people with 'animal magnetism'. After he became embroiled in a scandal around a blind harpsichord player, whose parents sued him, he had to flee Vienna.

He settled in Paris where he opened a busy cabinet. He designed the 'baquet', which consisted of a large round wooden box filled with 'magnetised water' containing iron bars. In this way he could treat several patients simultaneously.

But Messmer also treated some patients individually with hypnosis and direct manipulations. In 1784 a committee of scientists exposed him as a charlatan and his 'mesmerism' was discredited. In 1825, l'Académie de Médecine and several Cours de Justice banned doctors from using 'animal magnetism therapy' in their practice.


In 1779 the French physician  Jean-Pierre David (1717-1784) wrote a dissertation on the effects of movement and rest in surgical disorders, a classic of orthopedics, translated into English in 1790.


In his work 'Gymnastique Médicinale et Chirurgicale', French physician Clement-Joseph Tissot (1747-1826), surgeon of Napoleon Bonaparte's army (1769-1821) described the therapeutic applications of body exercises. The work is one of the earliest writings on physiotherapy and even appeared before the publications of Swedish gymnastics pioneer Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839). In the first part Tissot studied the effect of exercise and rest on health. He realized that active and passive movements of the patient are necessary to avoid decubitus and 'stiffness and adhesions of the joints'. For the performance of his movement therapy, he paid a lot of attention to a correct and adapted selection of exercise and load dosing. In part two he systematically described physical therapy exercises for the treatment of rickets, stroke, rheumatism, gout and other surgical and orthopedic indications.


Jean-André Venel (1740-1791) established the first orthopedic institute worldwide, dedicated to the treatment of children's skeletal deformities. He developed the club-foot shoe for children born with foot deformities and various methods to treat curvature of the spine.