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History of Physical Therapy

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The history of began at least as early as the time of Hippocrates, when people began using massage. The practice of physical therapy has evolved over the centuries, from its earliest forms to the complex system of treatment that it is today.

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In 460 B.C., Hector was using a type of physical therapy called hydrotherapy or water therapy. Today, professionals use this type of therapy, although it is more specialized for each type of condition of the patient.

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In 1894, for the first time in the history of physical therapy, there is evidence of a group of nurses forming a chartered association. Within two decades, programs were established in other countries. New Zealand’s began in 1913 and the United States’ in 1914.

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The first American professionals in the history of physical therapy came from Walter Reed College and Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Instead of being called physical therapists, they were called reconstruction assistants. These assistants were nurses who had a background in physical education. They played an important role in the rehabilitation of many World War I veterans.

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Research has been going on throughout the modern history of physical therapy. In fact, at the very beginning, a study was conducted in the United States. It was published in 1921. Today, research in physical therapy continues in a myriad of specialties.

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Also in 1921, the Physical Therapy Association was founded by Mary McMillan. This group later became the APTA and is arguably the most influential organization in the history of physical therapy in the United States.

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The Georgia Springs Foundation was founded in 1924 in response to the growing polio epidemic. The foundation provided physical therapy for these patients. Sister Kinney became nationally known for her work with polio patients. She previously practiced at the Mayo Clinic. The polio epidemic was a turning point in the history of physical therapy.

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After the polio epidemic, the treatment of choice was massage, exercise and traction. In about 1950, chiropractic appeared in the history of physical therapy. It was the most common in England.

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After that, the history of physical therapy shifted from hospitals to other services. There were and still are physiotherapists working in clinics, private practices, nursing homes and schools. The osteopathic specialty of physical therapy was also born at this time.

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The International Federation of Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy emerged and began the reforms that have influenced the profession ever since. Mariano Rocabado is a physiotherapist who has had a profound impact. Freddy Kaltenborn from Norway influenced physiotherapy on the East Coast of the United States. Meanwhile, Geoffrey Maitland from Australia changed the way physiotherapy was trained throughout its history.

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The focus of the history of physical therapy in the 1980s was on technology. New procedures emerged, using computers, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and other equipment. By the 1990s, interest had shifted to manual therapy, and Freddie Kaltenborn again led the way.

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Throughout the history of physical therapy, training and practice have changed and improved. Many distinguished pioneers have left their mark on the literature and organization of the field. As a result, physical therapy has become a highly respected profession.