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The lithotomy position is a medical term referring to a common position for surgical procedures and medical examinations involving the pelvis and lower abdomen, as well as a common position for childbirth in Western nations. The lithotomy position involves the positioning of an individual's feet above or at the same level as the hips (often in stirrups), with the perineum positioned at the edge of an examination table. References to the position have been found in some of the oldest known medical documents including versions of the Hippocratic oath (see lithotomy); the position is named after the ancient surgical procedure for removing kidney stones, gall stones and bladder stones via the perineum. The position is perhaps most recognizable as the 'often used' position for childbirth: the patient is laid on the back with knees bent, positioned above the hips, and spread apart through the use of stirrups.
The position is frequently used and has many obvious benefits from the doctor's perspective. Most notably the position provides good visual and physical access to the perineal region. The position is used for procedures ranging from simple pelvic exams to surgeries and procedures involving, but not limited to reproductive organs, urology, and gastrointestinal systems. New observations and scientific findings, combined with a greater sensitivity to patient needs have raised awareness of the physical and psychological risks the position may pose for prolonged surgical procedures, pelvic examinations, and, most notably, childbirth.
Some studies have found a significant relationship between prolonged surgical procedures with the patient in the lithotomy position and a circulatory complication known as compartment syndrome, Nerve injury by pressure is also possible, the femoral or peroneal nerve are at risk.
Patients have reported feeling a loss of control and increased sense of vulnerability when examined in the lithotomy position because they cannot see the area being examined. Other, equally effective positions have been suggested for examinations of conscious patients.