Physical Therapy: A Brief History

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines physical therapy (PT) as “therapy for the preservation, enhancement, or restoration of movement and physical function impaired or threatened by disease, injury, or disability that utilizes therapeutic exercise, physical modalities (such as massage and electrotherapy), assistive devices, and patient education and training.” According to the Bernard Becker Medical Library at the Washington University in St. Louis, PT in modern times was established in the United Kingdom in the late 19th century. Soon after, orthopedic surgeons in the US began to employ young women trained in massage, remedial exercise, and physical education to help treat children with disabilities. Between the outbreaks of polio in the Eastern US and World War I, the application of PT increased exponentially and led to the institutionalization of PT. The first school of physical therapy was established at Walter Reed Army Hospital, Washington, DC after the outbreak of World War 1.  After the war, efforts went from restoring and maintaining a fighting force to restoring and maintaining a working force. In 1921, the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association was formed and, in 1947, it became what we know today as the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). PT was originally seen as a “subordinate” practice. Today, PT can serve as the entry point in the health care system for evaluation, treatment, preventive programs, and consultations.

NARIC’s information specialists searched the collection for articles on PT from NIDILRR grantees and beyond and found over 1,000 articles on PT! Here are just a few of their searches:

If you would like to learn more about PT or would like resources in your area, contact NARIC’s information specialists by calling 800/346-2742, emailing naricinfo@heitechservices.com, or via our chat.

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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