A History of Physiotherapy
Physical therapy, also known as physiotherapy, has been a form
of treatment for physical impairments and disabilities for
thousands of years. It is considered key in the recovery of patients
who suffer from debilitating conditions as a result of accidents or
illnesses. Starting as early as the days when Hippocrates was
alive, massage was used as a form of therapy to help restore and
maintain the body's movement and functional ability.
Hydrotherapy or water therapy was also used to aid in similar
developments. These types of treatments and more have evolved
through the years into the more complex system physical therapy
Today some form of physiotherapy is used in almost all ailments
and injuries related to the bones. With its centuries of
development and improvements, physiotherapy has become a
much needed part of medical treatments which involve these
problems. Patients who undergo a form of physical therapy most
compatible with their injuries are certain to improve if they
continue over time with the therapy.
The earliest documented records of the use of physiotherapy were documented in 1813 in Sweden. Per
Henrik Ling, considered to be the "Father of Swedish Gymnastics," founded the Royal Central Institute of
Gymnastics as a center for massage, manipulation and exercise. By 1887, Sweden officially recognized
physical therapy and gave the treatment registration in the country's National Board of Health and
Other countries followed Sweden's example and began to accept physiotherapy as a valid means of
treatment. Four nurses in Great Britain were founders of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy in 1894.
Other institutions included The School of Physiotherapy at the University of Otago located in New
Zealand in 1913 as well as Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1914. Graduates of these schools were
called "reconstruction aides," and in the following years this type of therapy became more widely used.
During World War I, physical therapy was used to help the many injured; both soldiers and civilians alike.
The treatment was referred to as "rehabilitation therapy" during this time. Most of the reconstruction aides
were nurses who had learned the technique and were educated in physical education as well as massage
The technique of physical therapy continued to grow in knowledge and popularity, and in 1921, a
research paper on the subject was published in the United States in what was called "The PT Review."
The American Women's Physical Therapeutic Association was also founded at this time by Mary
McMillan, the first physical therapy aide, considered to be the "Mother of Physical Therapy." The name
of her Association was later changed to the American Physical Therapy Association or APTA. This
organization defined physical therapy as "clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance and
promotion of optimal physical function."
As physiotherapy continued to evolve, more research papers were published on the subject. These papers
served as a catalyst for the therapy's popularity and subsequent movement towards mainstream use. It
gained support from the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, who termed it as a treatment for polio.
During the 1940s, physical therapy came into its own as a rehabilitation technique consisting mainly of
massage, exercise and traction. In Great Britain, however, it was taken to another level as therapy aides
began using manipulative therapy for spine and joint pains in addition to the other treatments. The next
decade saw the techniques perfected as more patients were involved in therapy.
Bringing the Therapy Home
During the 1950s, another barrier was crossed. While physiotherapy had only been performed in hospitals
up to this point, doctors and therapists began to see the benefits of using it beyond hospital walls. As a
result, an explosion of locations became available. Physiotherapists could now choose to practice in
public schools or universities. Medical centers as well as rehabilitation centers could now house therapists
who would perform their treatments onsite. Eventually therapists could visit the patient at home if
As the world of physiotherapy continued to grow; many doctors began to specialize in this type of
treatment, opening a new world of medicine to many patients. Many doctors and therapists chose to focus
their skills in the area of Orthopedics, studying and manipulating the musculoskeletal system. The APTA
formed the Orthopedic Section, a separate division, for doctors and therapists choosing this field, and the
International Federation of Orthopedic Manipulative Therapy was formed in 1974.
Entering the Computer Age
As computers became more prevalent in the medical world, the
field of physiotherapy evolved even further. The advent of the
electronics age made possible by ever smaller components
allowed for the introduction of new devices to use in therapy.
Electrical stimulators as well as ultrasounds are examples of
some of the devices that increased effectiveness in treatment.
While the field of Orthopedics has continued to grow in effective
treatments and therapy, another area of specialization has formed.
The field of Sports Medicine has developed into an extremely
effective means of treating injured sports players. With doctors
and therapists treating sports participants whether they're school
players or the stars of world class games, the techniques of
physical therapy continue to find patients to heal.
Back to Basics?
Since the 1990s, more therapists are returning to manual
techniques used in therapy. An unstable world economy as well
as changes in health insurance has brought about adjustments in
the way physiotherapy is used. As government health care regulations continue to be updated and
changed, expenses involved have come under close scrutiny. Expenditures must be justified, resulting in a
new approach to rehabilitation. Physiotherapists such as Freddy Kaltenborn of Norway and Geoffrey
Maitland of Australia advocate Orthopedic Manipulative Therapy with an emphasis on training as an
alternative form of therapy.
The new millennium has introduced a global community that can utilize the best education and machines
to help physiotherapy continue to evolve. This field will continue to grow and improve as it meets the
world's therapy needs.
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