The history of physical therapy is linked to the earliest recorded medical studies performed in ancient Greece. Physical therapy is the ability to rehabilitate interactive components of the body, such as muscles, joints, bones and tendons. There have been major advances in physical therapy treatment due to new technologies, but the basic concepts behind sustaining and repairing physical health are nothing new.
Greek Physical Therapy
Around 460 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates recommended massage therapy as a remedy for stress release and for physical healing. Hector, another Greek physician, wrote about water therapy, or hydrotherapy, for his patients. Other ancient writings from Egypt, China and Persia also tout the benefits of massage, exercise and movement for ailments.
Late 1800s To WWII
There was relatively little advancement in the field of physical therapy for centuries. Change did not happen until the formation of a physical therapy group founded by a nursing group in England in 1894. They had put together several physical therapy techniques known to be beneficial and began training others. The first American school for physical therapy opened in 1914 in Washington DC, after physical therapy techniques were found to help injured soldiers who returned from World War I.
The American Physical Therapy Association, or APTA, was formed in 1921, and research increased in the field, with results published in medical journals for others to learn from. In the 1920s, an outbreak of poliomyelitis across the nation placed even more demand on newly trained physical therapists. Over the next several decades, improvements in medicine and surgery also contributed to improvements in physical therapy.
Post World War II To Present
Up until World War II, physical therapy was only done in hospitals as patients recovered from injuries, surgeries or other ailments. As the length of hospital time decreased from several weeks to a few days, physical therapy clinics emerged to provide treatment for patients who had gone home but still needed rehabilitation. Outpatient physical therapy became covered under basic medical coverage for many insurance policies and government programs in the late 1960s.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, physical therapy as a profession dealt with increasing diversification, such as orthopedic physical therapy and cardiopulmonary physical therapy. The 1990s and the new millennium brought new challenges for physical therapy practices due to rapidly changing health care insurance practices, as well as the increase in government health care regulations.
Pediatric physical therapy is one of the many subcategories of physical and occupational therapy. A pediatric physical therapist works with children exclusively and sets up physical therapy rehabilitation programs for a variety of conditions.
An emerging profession is animal physical therapy, designed to assist animals in regaining function and rehabilitation due to disease, accident or surgery.