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Chirurgie de la main 29 (2010) 145–146
Pioneers of hand surgery
Erik Moberg (1905–1993)
Erik Moberg was, to say the least, a unique person and a one compass. They are not only useless, they are even
of a kind personality with a multifold of skills. His misleading’’ .
contributions in the ﬁeld of hand surgery are well documented Erik Moberg graduated from the Faculty of Medicine,
and well known. Less known are maybe his other skills that University of Lund in 1932 and his ﬁrst appointment as a doctor
range from archeology and ancient cultures to being a devoted was in Persia (1932–33) where he met a Swedish nurse, Märta,
sailor and collector of butterﬂies. His never-ending curiosity whom he married in 1934. He defended a thesis in experimental
and willingness to learn and relearn in the broadest aspect of life pathology at University of Lund 1936 and began training in
are assets that need to be emphasized and hopefully followed by orthopaedic surgery, moved to Göteborg and the Department of
younger colleagues. Erik was a true academic and a role model Surgery at Sahlgrenska Hospital where -in 1942- he became a
for people striving for perfection regardless of topic. He joined senior staff member.
discussions, often with strong opinions, but with a good mood In 1944, he began to treat hand injuries inspired by
and open mind. He delivered numerous memorable lectures that Dr Bunnell’s principles (Surgery of the Hand, 1944). He
always took the audience further than expected by provoking organized a separate ward for treatment of fractures due to their
the listener to become active and thoughtful. He was not afraid wound infections and abscesses. In 1949 he had the ﬁrst hand
of challenging the so-called state -of –the-art and he kept surgery ward in Scandinavia fully organized and established at
stressing that state -of –the-art is a dynamic process that we are the Sahlgrenska Hospital.
all involved in. In other words, the interaction between experts In 1947, Erik spent several months with Dr Sterling Bunnell
on a regular basis was fundamental for development. In this in the U.S where he observed the post-war treatments at hand
intensive process of communication, Erik stressed the need for surgical centers. Back in Sweden he started the ﬁrst hand
collecting information not only from experts but also from surgical ward in Scandinavia in Göteborg.
patients and laymen because they may present, directly or Erik was always very interested in teaching and especially
indirectly, the key to a major scientiﬁc break-through. his new concept of treating hand injuries. He wrote a book
If one picked a special topic that magnetized Erik Moberg Emergency Surgery of the Hand in 1948, which has been
it would no doubt be phenomenon and signiﬁcance of skin translated into many languages and published in several
sensation. In his clinical accomplishments sensation certainly editions over the years. Erik Moberg introduced hand surgery
played an instrumental role. The following citation represents ofﬁcially in Sweden in 1948.
Erik’s interest bordering obsession of sensation as well as his In 1951, he formed the Nordic Hand Club (now the
ﬁrm opinions about how to assess sensation. Or maybe more Scandinavian Society for Surgery of the Hand, SSSH). He was
correctly what techniques not to use for evaluating sensation: inspired by the American Society for Surgery of the Hand
‘‘It must be emphasized that sensibility is, in my opinion and which was started by Bunnell in 1946. In the early 1970´s the
according to my experience, the basis for reconstructive ‘‘Moberg lecture’’ was founded at these meetings. In 1956, Erik
work. . . for reconstructive surgery, ‘‘feeling’’ is a totally Moberg was given a personal professorship in Extremity
useless term, as it covers far too much and distinguishes Surgery and in 1958 in Hand Surgery. Erik trained several
hardly anything. . . for examination of useful sensibility in surgeons, and ﬁve of them became full time hand surgeons and
reconstructive hand surgery of all the tests evaluated by the themselves established centers in different parts of Sweden.
authors, the only one which was found to be signiﬁcant is the In 1958, Erik attended a meeting of the Second Hand Club
two-point discrimination test now performed with a paperclip. and became one of the ﬁrst Corresponding Members. This club
All other tests of sensory function, in my opinion, should in even toured in Scandinavia and was accompanied by many
this work be abandoned, including cotton wool and paper others from Europe and the USA in 1961. This was the ﬁrst
strip, pinprick, ordinary tuning fork, the difference between international meeting and was organized by Erik. This was also
sharp and blunt, ﬁgure writing, the wrinkling skin test and the the foundation for meetings with a high level of scientiﬁc
two-point discrimination test performed with sharp pointed papers. Arthur Barsky, President of the American Society, was
1297-3203/$ – see front matter
Author's personal copy
146 Pioneers of hand surgery / Chirurgie de la main 29 (2010) 145–146
did not want hand surgery to be a specialty on its own, but rather
as ‘‘extremity surgery’’ which would cover upper and lower
extremities, spine and pelvis. The creation of the ﬁrst
specialized hand surgery units and even more so the recognition
of the hand surgery specialty were directly against the desired
development of Erik Moberg. He was, however, ﬂexible and
once a fact, he played a major role to evolve and reﬁne the hand
In 1971, after his retirement Erik started working on the
surgical rehabilitation of patients with tetraplegia . He
continued this work during the remaining years of his life. His
extensive monography on tetraplegia surgery from 1978 is
today considered a bible . His last article on this subject was
published in 1992. Moberg has said ‘‘after hearing Bunnell
Fig. 1. Professor Moberg in his beloved sailboat. Many of Erik Moberg’s speak, I have never been able to leave the question of sensibility
international guests participated in and enjoyed shorter or longer sail trips along
in hand function’’. He applied much of his knowledge about
the Swedish west coast.
sensation to classiﬁcation and treatment strategies in tetra-
plegia. Erik Moberg had earlier introduced the Ninhydrin test to
document objectively innervation. He deﬁned hand function as
precision-sensory and gross-sensory grips. He correlated Weber
two-point discrimination with hand function. He introduced the
pick-up test to document hand function. He coined the term
‘‘tactile gnosis’’. He hypothesized that proprioception is
principally due to skin- not joint- afferents and he classiﬁed
the tetraplegic hand according to its combined sensory and
Above-mentioned examples just represent a selection of the
multi-fold of remarkable achievements [6,7] and wonderful
memories that Erik Moberg generously distributed to the
academic, clinical and social world (Figs. 1 and 2). The ﬁrst,
second and probably even later generations of hand surgeons in
Sweden and many other countries certainly consider Erik
Fig. 2. Professor Moberg congratulating Dr. Esther May at her Ph.D. disserta- Moberg a role model and leading star in their careers.
tion in 1992.
Photo Dr. Ann Nachemson.
 Moberg E. Objective methods for determining the functional value of
approached and many international meetings in Edinburgh, sensibility in the hand. J Bone Joint Surg (Br) 1958;40(3):454–76.
 Moberg E. Objective method of evaluating hand sensation and its use in
Turin, Rio de Janeiro led to the beginning of the International reconstructive surgery. J Bone Joint Surg (Am) 1959;41(4):777.
Federation.  Moberg E. Technical aspects of the transfer of neurovascular ﬂaps. J Bone
In 1962, he presented the ﬁrst annual Sterling Bunnell Joint Surg (Br) 1964;46:359.
Lecture to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand. The  Moberg E. Reconstructive hand surgery in tetraplegia Stroke and cerebral
palsy: some basic concepts in physiology and neurology. J Hand Surg (Am)
title of the lecture was ‘‘Aspects of sensation in reconstructive
surgery of the upper extremity’’. Erik Moberg made several  Moberg E. The upper limb in tetraplegia: a new approach to surgical
important scientiﬁc contributions in the ﬁeld of hand surgery. rehabilitation. Stuttgart: Georg Thieme Verlag; 1978.
He was especially interested in sensibility and he introduced the  Hagert CG. Erik Moberg 1905–1993. Acta Orthop Scand 1993;64(6):717–
term ‘‘academic sensation’’ or tactile-gnosis type of sensi- 24.
motor feed-back driven performance-related sensation (‘‘what  Dellon AL. The sensational contributions of Erik Moberg. J Hand Surg (Br)
a hand can do’’) as opposed to functional or discriminatory
sensation [1,2]. He devised methods of ‘‘transferring sensa-
tion’’ by moving island ﬂaps from a less important area to ´
contact surface for grips . He also spoke of early M. Knall
synovectomy for the small joints in rheumatoid disease. Department of Hand Surgery, Sahlgrenska University Hospital,
In 1968, Erik was elected as the very ﬁrst president of the SE-413 45 Göteborg, Sweden
International Federation of Societies for Surgery of the Hand,
IFSSH. In 1969 Sweden became the ﬁrst country in the world to *Corresponding author
have hand surgery recognized as a separate specialty. Moberg E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org