The word orthopaedics is based on two greek roots: orthos, which means straight and paedia which means child. It was first introduced by a french surgeon, Nicolas Andry (1658-1742) who published “L’Orthopédie, ou l’art de prévenir et de corriger dans les enfants, les difformités du Corps” in 1741.

Orthopaedics is thus fundamentally a medical specialty which discusses the deformations of the “holding” and “moving” structures, or locomotor system of the body in children. This notion was extended further to deformations of the locomotor system in all ages and for all causes, by means of: congenital (since childhood), degenerative, inflammatory (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), turmoral, metabolic (e.g. diabetes) or traumatic (accidents).


The founder, Jean-André Venel, was the son of a barber from Geneva who studied at the University of Montpellier in order to open a school for midwives close to his home.

During the deliveries he thus assisted, he was struck by some of the deformities of the babies: the deformities of the spinal column and the club feet.

Interested by these “congenital” abnormalities and concious of their impact on the whole life of these children, he became convinced that optimal treatment was long and difficult and needed an institution to allow continuous medical care together with general education.
He thus introduced treatment algorithms such as continuous traction beds and a famous wooden shoe allowing for continuous traction-rotation of club feet. Treatment was various, including manipulation and swimming in a special indoor pool.

Later, this institution was transferred to Aubonne, close to lake Geneva and then to Lausanne.

Modern orthopaedics was initiated a little more than 100 years ago with the discovery and use of x-rays by Wilhelm-Conrad Roentgen in Nov.1895.

This researcher, who studied in Zürich, made this discovery in Würzburg, Bavaria and precipitated a revolution in the approach and treatment of all deformities of the locomotor system.

Specialized societies within the field of Orthopaedics were founded rapidly, brought together in 1929 under a worldwide organization, the Société Internationale de Chirurgie Orthopédique et de Traumatologie SICOT which is still the top organization in orthopaedic surgery today.