The History of Physical Therapy

October is National Physical Therapy Month, allowing us to spend the next few weeks raising awareness of the benefits of physical therapy, and the role it can play in your life. Follow our blog to learn more about physical therapy treatments, how technology has advanced treatment, and the importance of choosing the right physical therapist. But first, let’s look at the history of physical therapy and the important role it plays in today's healthcare system.

Physical Therapy’s influences on medicine began in 460 BC when ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, introduced the idea of adding massage for pain relief. During that time a physical therapy technique called ‘hydrotherapy’ was introduced to help patients manage pain. This technique is still practiced today in the form of aquatic therapy. Ancient scripts from this time were also found in Persia, China, and Egypt all describing the benefits of exercise, movement, and massage to help treat pain and other ailments. Since then, Physical therapy has evolved into so much more.

By the late 19th century the first physical therapy societies and schools were founded in Sweden, Britain, New Zealand, and the United States, but Physical Therapy didn’t become prevalent until 1916 with the world Polio epidemic. During this time nurses were trained at the first schools of physical therapy, in Washington DC, to treat polio patients using movement. Physical therapists began developing ways to assess muscle strength and implement ways for muscles to return to optimal strength.

World War I marked the beginning of the profession in the United States where physical therapy was used to treat injured soldiers. As the polio epidemic continued in the United States, and we entered World War II, an increasing demand was placed on physical therapy, leading to groundbreaking new treatments for both polio patients and soldier's recovery from surgeries including amputations and spinal cord injuries. By the late 1950s, physical therapists started to treat beyond the hospital setting and outpatient physical therapy facilities opened to provide treatment for wounded soldiers that needed rehabilitation following hospital stays.

Over the years following World War I, the practice of physical therapy continued improving and in 1921 we saw the development of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), an association dedicated to improving the health and quality of life of individuals by physical therapist practice, education, and research. In 1993 they even initiated a doctoral-level physical therapy program to ensure all students were gaining the proper level of education and experience to treat patients for all their musculoskeletal needs.

Today, physical therapists consider movement an essential role in the health and well- being of patients and it is used to treat a variety of ailments and conditions. By determining patients' unique needs, and desired outcomes, physical therapists can help patients reduce pain, increase their range of motion, increased endurance and strength, restore independence, a help them return to a greater quality of life.

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