جامعة الملك عبدالعزيز

KING ABDULAZIZ UNIVERSITY

Faculty of Applied Medical Sciences - Physical Therapy Department

The History of Physical Therapy



 

Physical therapy (or Physiotherapy) is a health care profession primarily concerned with the remediation of impairments and disabilities and the promotion of mobility, functional ability, quality of life and movement potential through examination, evaluation, diagnosis and physical intervention carried out by Physical Therapists (known as Physiotherapists in most countries). In addition to clinical practice, other activities encompassed in the physical therapy profession include research, education, consultation and administration.

Physical Therapists play an important role in today’s healthcare system.  As trusted healthcare experts in restoring and improving motion, they contribute to their patients’ quality of life by keeping them healthy, fit, and active and, in many instances, avoiding surgery and long-term use of prescription medications. In work-related injuries, physical therapy is often the last course of treatment utilized before the patient is released to return to work and placed at Maximum Medical Improvement.  Although most people are familiar with the term physical therapy, few know of how this very important profession came to be.

From the elite athlete, person with back or neck pain to someone having a spinal cord injury or stroke, the profession of physical therapy now treats a multitude of musculoskeletal injuries and disorders. Physical Therapy, like modern medicine, has constantly evolved over the last century, now able to treat problems successfully better than ever before. Here is a small look at the history of physical therapy.

Physicians like Hippocrates and later Galenus are believed to have been the first practitioners of physical therapy, advocating massage, manual therapy techniques and hydrotherapy to treat people in 460 BC. After the development of orthopedics in the eighteenth century, machines like the Gymnasticon were developed to treat gout and similar diseases by systematic exercise of the joints, similar to later developments in physical therapy.

The earliest documented origins of actual physical therapy as a professional group date back to Per Henrik Ling, “Father of Swedish Gymnastics,” who founded the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics (RCIG) in 1813 for massage, manipulation, and exercise. The Swedish word for physical therapist is sjukgymnast = someone involved in gymnastics for those who are ill. In 1887, PTs were given official registration by Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare.

Other countries soon followed. In 1894 four nurses in Great Britain formed the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. The School of Physiotherapy at the University of Otago in New Zealand in 1913 and the United States' 1914 Reed College in Portland, Oregon, which graduated "reconstruction aides."

Modern physical therapy was established in Britain towards the end of the 19th century. Soon following American orthopedic surgeons began treating children with disabilities and began employing women trained in physical education, massage, and remedial exercise. These treatments were applied and promoted further during the Polio outbreak of 1916. During the First World War women were recruited to work with and restore physical function to injured soldiers, and the field of physical therapy was institutionalized. In 1918 the term "Reconstruction Aide" was used to refer to individuals practicing physical therapy. The first school of physical therapy was established at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washtington D.C. following the outbreak of World War I.

Research catalyzed the physical therapy movement. The first physical therapy research was published in the United States in March 1921 in "The PT Review." In the same year, Mary McMillan organized the Physical Therapy Association (now called the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and which currently represents approximately 76,000 members throughout the United States. The APTA defines physical therapy as: "clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance, and promotion of optimal physical function."

 In 1924, the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation promoted the field by touting physical therapy as a treatment for polio. Treatment through the 1940s primarily consisted of exercise, massage, and traction. Manipulative procedures to the spine and extremity joints began to be practiced, especially in the British Commonwealth countries, in the early 1950s. Later that decade, physical therapists started to move beyond hospital-based practice to outpatient orthopedic clinics, public schools, colleges/universities health centers, geriatric settings (skilled nursing facilities), rehabilitation centers and medical centers.

Specialization for Physical Therapy in the United States occurred in 1974, with the Orthopaedic Section of the APTA being formed for those Physical Therapists specializing in Orthopedics.  In the same year, the International Federation of Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapy (IFOMT) was formed, which has heralded change and progress in manual therapy worldwide ever since.  During this period, the eastern United States were greatly influenced by the training of Norway's Freddy Kaltenborn (Osteopathic Physician, Chiropractor, Physical Therapist, and Athletic Trainer. Mariano Rocabado, PT of Chile, who specialized in treatment of Temporomandibular disorders, also brought much new information and continues to contribute to our profession. Australia's Geoffrey Maitland, PT initially influenced the training of manual therapy on the west coast.

In the 1980's, the explosion of technology and computers led to more technical advances in rehabilitation. Some of these advances have continued to grow, with computerized modalities such as ultrasound, electric stimulators, and iontophoresis with the latest advances in therapeutic cold laser, which finally gained FDA approval in the United States in 2002. Other advances, such as electronic resistive exercise known as Isokinetics, have fallen out of popularity for various reasons, despite having their place within the profession.

The 1990's brought much attention to manual therapy, with formal residency programs becoming more numerous. During the summer of 1991, Norwegian manual therapist Freddy Kaltenborne helped create the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy (AAOMPT). Dr. Stanley Paris, PT and Ola Grimsby, PT were among the founding members. This organization was a means for physical therapists to band together with a common specialization in manual and manipulative therapy.

In the 21st century, the profession has continued to grow substantially, by further developing the scientific basis for its services, and by creating entry-level education standards to meet the demands of today’s health care system. This vital work will continue as the health care system is reformed.

Today’s physical therapy profession boasts confident, accomplished, professional practitioners on the cutting edge of health care, and it consistently ranks as one of the international most desirable careers.  These practitioners help individuals of all ages to have optimal functioning and quality of life, while ensuring patient safety and applying evidence to provide efficient and effective care. Extensive education, clinical expertise, and "hands on" approach give Physical Therapist a unique, individualized approach. When you are in the hands of a physical therapist, you have a plan of care that is safe and appropriate and customized to meet your individual needs.  

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Last Update 4/3/2013 1:46:10 PM