National Physical Therapy Month: How Did Physical Therapy Start?

October is National Physical Therapy month, established by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). This month of recognition celebrates the profession and acknowledges how physical therapists help improve the lives of so many individuals. At the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin, we are proud to be home to many talented and reputable physical therapists that work to improve the lives of so many of our patients. 

Have you ever wondered about the history of the important profession? In the blog post below, Kevin Campion, PT, MPT, of Greenfield Physical Therapy, describes the history of physical therapy in honor of National Physical Therapy Month. 

Early Origins of the Practice

Humans have always had to deal with ailments and have had to try different forms of treatment. The Tao-Tse people of China in 3000 BC. created an early movement therapy called “Cong Fu.” The ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Japanese had water therapy, forms of massage, heat and cold therapy, and gymnastic exercises. In 400 B.C., Hippocrates recommended manual manipulation, massage, and water therapy. Advancing to 1887, Sweden’s Board of Health and Welfare deemed physiotherapists providing physiotherapy an official health treatment as the medical development of orthopedic surgery advanced. Additionally, major world events shaped the practice worldwide and led to its formation in the United States. These events include polio outbreaks from 1916 to 1955, World War I, and World War II.  

Physical Therapy in the United States 

In the U.S. during 1918, women known as reconstruction aides trained at the Army’s Walter Reed Hospital and provided exercise and massage treatments to injured soldiers. The leader of those women was Mary McMillan, and she created the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association in 1921. The name changed in 1947 to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). 

From the 1930s to the 1950s, hospital wards focused on helping polio patients. This led to the development of movement and exercise treatment for them. The number of people affected with polio, plus many wounded veterans, and advances in orthopedic surgery from 1916 to 1960 increased the demand for treatments. During this time, the profession grew to around 15,000 practicing therapists in the APTA, and 52 physical therapy schools opened. After World War II, special clinics opened for injured soldiers to go to after leaving a hospital. This led to the creation of the outpatient care setting. 

Treatment options increased and were added to the realm of physical therapy over time. New indications to help patients were developed beyond dealing with orthopedics to include neurological problems, specialties in pediatrics, geriatrics, wound care, burn care, balance problems, and sports medicine to name a few. Currently, there are nearly 312,000 licensed therapists in the U.S. and 127,000 PT assistants in over 200 schools. The degree earned in school progressed from a bachelor’s to a master’s to now a doctorate. The career is still growing as the population ages and the need for therapy services is still increasing to meet the health care demands of society. 

If you require physical therapy services, make an appointment today. Kevin Campion is currently accepting new patients at Greenfield Physical Therapy. Call 414-282-9590 to book your appointment.