Recently, I did some light research on operating table design. I was looking for changes in design and materials so that I could help a researcher date their newly-acquired artifact. What I found was that after about 1920, operating tables didn’t change much. They all looked about the same and had similar features. The biggest differences among operating tables throughout the last 100 years are materials and electronic controls. The design is still very similar to those of the early 20th century.
Operating tables of the early- and mid-1800s were very simple wooden planks that may have had restraints for the chest and extremities. These would have been necessary because surgery was done without anesthesia. These basic tables were made more for the surgeon’s comfort than for the patient. Operating tables or chairs would have placed the patient at a comfortable position for the surgeon to work.
As the types of surgery increased due to the use of anesthesia and antiseptic practices, the operating tables and chairs were designed to offer a variety of surgical positions. The table was divided into multiple sections that could be manually adjusted to achieve these positions. Foot rests, shoulder braces, and stirrups held the patient in place. Channels and basins for blood and pus were added.
At the beginning of the 20th century, tables became aseptic and were made out of metal. Throughout the 20th century, these materials have changed with the invention of new, lighter, materials. Electronic controls have allowed for a more precise positioning of the patient.