The history of physical therapy (PT) reaches back into the time of Hippocrates. Massage and hydrotherapy were treatments of choice. Profession groups of physiotherapy in England date back to 1894 when the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy was started.
In the United States, the first physical therapists graduated in 1914 in Portland, Oregon and were called “reconstruction aides”. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) was organized in 1921 and for the next 20-30 years, the main focus of treatment was on polio patients and war veterans. Treatment by PTs in this time mostly consisted of exercise, massage and traction. Manipulative treatments to the extremities and spine joints began in Britain in the 1950s. PTs started moving out of hospital-based care and into a wide variety of settings over the next 10 years. About this time, many states started enacting licensure laws and requiring competency exams.
Specialization of PT in the United States occurred in 1974, with the forming of the orthopedic section. That same year the International Federation of Orthopedic Manipulative Therapists (IFOMT) formed, and manual therapists around the world starting training the U.S. therapists. During the 1990s, the age of computers improved the APTA’s research and evidence-based practice to improve training and patient care. The scope of a PT’s practice grew from hospital and outpatient practices to work conditioning, women’s health, aquatic therapy, sports training and other niche practices. Time have changed greatly since the turn of the century.
In most states, PTs have direct access to the public, which means that a PT can be your primary entry point into the health care system. Idaho PTs have direct access, but unfortunately many insurance companies will not reimburse a provider without a physician referral. The APTA’s vision for 2020 states, “Physical therapists are autonomous practioners to whom patients/clients have unrestricted direct access as an entry-point into the health care delivery system, and who are paid for all elements of patient/client management in all practice environments.”
Today, a PT can specialize in many areas such as manual orthopedic physical therapy, geriatrics, pediatrics, neurology. cardiac rehab. sports medicine and aquatic physical therapy. The job market for PTs is exceptional as well. The education requirements have evolved from on-the-job training to bachelors, masters and, now even, doctoral programs at accredited universities. PTs are universally recognized as the practitioners of choice for persons with conditions that affect movement and function. A visit to your local PT for a “nagging” ache or post surgical care should be a positive experience and one that will help you return to more normal function. Your local PT probably has a wide variety of training and experience will all areas of physical therapy as the profession has evolved over the past 120 years.