Ancient Egyptians had designed a kind of prosthetic toe that made walking easier and, interestingly, the toe design can help a person who has lost a toe walk comfortably even now.

The prosthetic toe studied belongs to a bronze and wooden leg that was found in a Roman burial in Capua, Southern Italy. The original leg is dated 300 BC, although the one that is available now is a replica as the original leg was destroyed during a bombing raid over London.

It is believed to be at least 400 years older than the current oldest-known prosthetic device.

"Several experts have examined these objects and had suggested that they were the earliest prosthetic devices in existence. There are many instances of the ancient Egyptians creating false body parts for burial but the wear plus their design both suggest they were used by people to help them to walk," Dr. Jacky Finch  from The University of Manchester said.

In the study, researchers recruited two volunteers who had lost their right toes. These participants were fitted with a replica of the ancient prosthetic along with the kind of sandals that the Egyptians wore. The volunteers were then monitored as they walked while wearing the prosthetics or their own shoes.

Surprisingly, both volunteers could walk better with the Egyptian-style prosthetics than with their own shoes. The participants could bend their right toe almost as much (87 percent) as the left toe. Also, the false toes did not cause any undue pressure that could hurt the feet. But, when the volunteers wore only the sandals, there was greater pressure on the foot.

"The pressure data tells us that it would have been very difficult for an ancient Egyptian missing a big toe to walk normally wearing traditional sandals. They could of course remained bare foot or perhaps have worn some sort of sock or boot over the false toe, but our research suggests that wearing these false toes made walking in a sandal more comfortable," Finch said in a news release. 

Researchers also asked the volunteers to rate their experience while wearing the false toe and sandals. Both the volunteers said that they found the false toes along with sandals comfortable.

The study was published in the Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics.