The History of Physical Therapy
A Brief Look

The history of physical therapy and the formation of this career field did not begin all that long ago. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) only dates back to 1921 which, when compared to other professional health care associations, is quite new.

history of physical therapy, historic photo

Although the formation of the APTA was recent in the United States, the profession itself is believed to have been around for much longer.

History of Physical Therapy - From The Beginning

Physical therapy is believed to date as far back as 460 B.C. where historical physicians such as Hippocrates and Galenus carried out some of the first treatments such as massage, hydrotherapy, and manual therapy techniques.

Later, in the eighteenth century came the development of orthopedics and treatments such as systematic joint exercise emerged to treat conditions such as gout.

Around 1813 the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics was founded by Per Henrik Ling. The institute offered massage, manipulation, and exercise.

Soon after, other countries followed suit further contributing to the development of the physical therapy profession. Great Britain formed the Charted Society of Physiotherapy in 1894, and New Zealand began the School of Physiotherapy in 1913.

The United States began a program at Reed College from which "reconstruction aides" graduated into the early field of physical therapy.

APTA Roots

The APTA was originally named the American Women's Physical Therapeutic Association and was formed by Mary McMillan. Mary, along with Marguerite Sanderson, was involved in the training of reconstruction aides who went on from training to treat those wounded in World War I.

Near the end of the 1930's, the association changed its name to the American Physical Therapy Association or APTA.

With this association name change, men were then allowed to be admitted as members. This change also brought a significant increase in membership.

APTA Growth

During the events of World War II and a widespread onset of polio in the population, physical therapists became high in demand to meet these needs.

APTA membership increased to around 8,000 members by the 1950's. Education programs to train physical therapists also increased to allow for more qualified therapists offering rehabilitation services.

Today there are over 200 accredited physical therapy programs in the United States alone. There are a variety of specialty areas to practice in, including geriatrics, pediatrics, orthopedics, and much more.

The APTA continues to grow and make strives to move the physical therapy profession forward. The association has contributed largely to the history of physical therapy in the United States.

Membership to the APTA now tops over 74,000.

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