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Patients or physicians utilizing a medical exam table may never even consider the table's long history. But mankind's medical diagnostic evolution includes the evolution of this important diagnostic tool.

In fact, the medical exam table history actually began in the Middle Ages. In Europe, medieval physicians examined their patients on uncomfortable wooden tables - making these devices doubly uncomfortable was the fact that many of these tables would also be used for dining, or the shoeing of horses. Patients had little privacy and sanitation was primitive at best, causing the spread of bacteria. While it was easier for physicians to examine patients from these tables from the standpoint of visibility, many patients requested that they be seen in their own beds for good reason.

While medical exam tables improved through the years, the materials with which they were made and the lack of portability continued to be less than ideal. Patients were often strapped onto tables, it was difficult for some individuals to reach the tables for examination purposes and they had to be physically assisted onto the table. Special exam tables might have included wheels for transport, but they were still heavy, difficult to store, and inefficient to clean. By the turn of the 20th century, ice cold stainless steel tables were the norm, and still cumbersome and uncomfortable.

But as the years have passed, and technology and medical advances have changed - the exam table has changed, too. The necessity for mobility as well as sanitation created new types of exam tables. As populations grew, hospitals grew. As modern warfare injuries occurred in the early twentieth century, physicians simply required an exam table that was portable, possible to sterilize, and fairly lightweight. Exam tables now exhibit modern functionality such as the ability to utilize hydraulics or electricity to raise or lower the table, a tilt capability to rotate the table from vertical to horizontal positions, storage bins or drawers, and a removable top system for easy cleaning and storage. Some tables even have warming features, or pads which are color coordinated for specific medical facilities.

Modern medical exam tables and the variety of types available now utilize material from surgical steel to the hard plastic variety which many office practices employ. Wooden tables are back and easy to sanitize in chiropractic practices. Today, medical exam tables come in all different sizes, shapes, and uses. You'll find hi-low tables that are excellent for the wheelchair bound patient; bariatric tables specifically equipped to manage heavy weight or special needs patients. In addition, there are specific categories of exam tables designed for pediatric use, orthopedic practices, and obstetrical and gynecological needs. Tables for physical therapy or traction are another option.

The blacksmith and physicians of the Middle Ages would be pleased and surprised by the changes since their era, as exam tables have come a long way since wooden table tops. Today's medical exam tables are a world away.