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26. Physical Therapy: Then and Now

Physical Therapy:  Then and Now

October is National Physical Therapy month, so I thought I would take the time to share information about the profession as a whole.  If we go back as far as 460 BC, we will find references from physicians such as the famous Hippocrates advocating massage, manual therapy, and hydrotherapy.  Other historical notes mention physical therapy associations beginning in 1887 in Sweden, with the formation of schools of “physiotherapy” in Great Britain, New Zealand, and United States by 1914. 

Two key historical markers expanded the use of physical therapy:  World War I and the polio epidemic.  Early physical therapy consisted primarily of exercise, massage, and traction – usually in a hospital based setting.  Manipulative procedures to the spine and peripheral joints began to be practiced in the early 1950s which ushered in the appearance of physical therapists in outpatient orthopedic clinics, public schools, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, etc.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) defines physical therapy as:  “clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance, and promotion of optimal physical function.”  Physical therapists now treat a wide range of physical ailments including (but not limited to):  pediatric diagnoses such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and cystic fibrosis, geriatric conditions associated with normal aging processes like arthritis, fractures, cardiopulmonary disease, CVA/stroke victims, osteoporosis, etc.  Orthopedic conditions such as rotator cuff injuries or ACL tears, neurological injuries including traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries, vestibular/vertigo diagnoses, urinary urgency or incontinence, lymphedema, painful joints or other pain syndromes, fibromyalgia, wound care….the list goes on and on!

Physical therapists attend a 4-year undergraduate college or university before applying for graduate school for another 3-years of education.  Most PT schools have now transitioned into doctorate programs (DPT), but you will find many with masters’ (MPT) or bachelors (PT) degrees as well.  With such a wide variety of diagnoses to treat, you will find every PT has been trained in some area or areas of focus or specialty.  Research the physical therapists in your area to discover who is best able to treat your specific condition or diagnosis.

Written by Jodi Flanagan, MPT

Published October 2012

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