History of physical therapy involves hard workers fighting to make people’s welfare a normal practice. All societies have doctors, which in the modern age includes a system of insurance payouts. Physical therapy, however, exists outside that system. Similar to chiropractors, therapists provide care for people regardless of insurance, as well as offering services that many doctors cannot.
The history of physical therapy describes amazing progress in how we care about our health and provide it for people outside of systems of organized healthcare. Read on to learn about its major events and breakthroughs to appreciate how essential its services are. The field continues to grow today!
History of Physical Therapy: The Early Years
While the act of manipulating muscles with a holistic healer dates back to ancient days, the origins of physical therapy as an organized concept the way we know it today starts in 1813. Pehr Henrik Ling founded the Central Institute of Gymnastics that year to help athletes massage and manipulate their muscles for improved performance. This led to the term “physiotherapy” being coined in the coming decades, appearing in a famous medical journal article in 1851. This word naturally became “physical therapy” over time.
As the benefits of this therapy became more widely known, physical therapists branched out from gymnastics. They began providing services in manipulation, muscle re-education, and injury prevention to diverse patients, climaxing in the age of polio.
The Polio Endemic: Fuel for the Physical Therapy Craze
Polio devastated patients’ ability to move, weakening their muscles. Therefore, the door opened for physical therapists to become a national necessity in 1916 when polio became a full-blown endemic.
Manual Muscle Testing became a common practice to help people target and re-educate their weak muscles. This practice still exists today! FDR made famous several now-essential physical therapy techniques, including muscle manipulation and hydrotherapy. Therefore, by rehabilitating a president, physical therapy hit the mainstream.
Physical Therapy as a Job: From WWI to Today
Physical therapy still was not a “job” until WWI. Injured soldiers throughout the world needed rehabilitation and physical therapists rose to this occasion throughout the 1910s and 1920s.
Therapists began partnering with medical organizations to create systems of regular service for injured soldiers. This carried over to the second world war, which saw the creation of electrical stimulation as a viable therapy technique. Additionally, PTs began working in hospitals, earning degrees, and expanding their practice.
By the 1950s, physical therapy had thus become a full-fledged professional field. It included many services beyond muscular massage, including neuromuscular therapy to combat cerebral palsy, cardiac rehabilitation, and other services.
As wars continued to create patients in need of rehab, PTs continued to grow in status and professional practice. Today, they are mainstays of medical communities, many also earning doctorates in the field of manual therapy.
The history of physical therapy involves hard-working people filling a need. As wars and endemics made rehabilitation essential, physical therapy grew from a niche service into a professional career as prevalent as nursing. Today, they represent an essential workforce in the medical community and a lifesaver for the millions of people that make use of their services.